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ISAW Papers 7.21 (Preprint)

Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Resource

Eric Poehler

The ancient city of Pompeii “is at once the most studied and the least understood of sites. Universally familiar, its excavation and scholarship prove a nightmare of omissions and disasters. Each generation discovers with horror the extent to which information has been ignored, neglected, destroyed and left unreported and unpublished” (Wallace-Hadrill 1994, 65). When Andrew Wallace-Hadrill published these words in 1994, they were merely the most succinct and cogent expression of what every scholar already knew: working within the ruins of the ancient city is significantly easier than digging through the equally vast and uneven archive of scholarship. Even what has been published is spread across the world in hundreds of libraries and archives, hidden in obscure and defunct journals, travel diaries, monographs and illustrations. Paradoxically, with the efficiency of interlibrary loan services and electronic means of transmission, it is easier to acquire the actual publication than it is to first discover that source as a relevant citation. Fortunately, in 1998 Laurentino Garcia y Garcia published his landmark compendium of 14,596 annotated citations, the Nova Bibliotheca Pompeiana (NBP), bringing these far-flung titles together for the first time. The arrival of the NBP has not, however, revolutionized the study of Pompeii as expected. The reasons for this are simple: the book’s high cost prevented a wide distribution and being a physical book limited the organization of its contents to a single format.

The Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Resource

With funding both an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant and the ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship, the Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project is working to create a unique resource for the study of ancient Pompeii that will overcome this failing and others: an exhaustive subject repository searchable through a GIS map. The Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Resource (PBMR) is a web-based research tool composed of three parts: 1. Bibliographic Database and Full-Text Document Repository, 2. Geographical Information System (GIS) and 3. User Interface. Because Pompeii lacks both a single, searchable bibliography and a standard, up-to-date map, the creation of a resource that solves these problems and simultaneously offers new and powerful search methods will revolutionize research on the ancient city. More specifically, the addition of the Geographical Information System introduces the ability to easily broaden a bibliographic investigation to an adjacent building or related subject without apprehension of investing dozens of hours in new bibliographic searches. One simply moves the mouse and clicks. We believe this will encourage the exploration of imaginative new connections between central and tangential datasets, between what the user was looking for and what interesting side road she was tempted to go down. The GIS will also bring uniquely powerful search tools – spatial analysis tools, such as proximity, density, and distribution analyses – that will allow the user to begin or to refine their research based on the landscape of the city. Additionally, because the geographical files will also be available for download, individuals can conduct more advanced analyses and produce new interpretations of Pompeii without each bearing the prohibitive burden of digitizing the entire ancient city. When users complete such advanced analyses, the PBMR will also provide a location to upload, maintain and serve the files they generate so that the carto-bibliography of the ancient city can continually improve.


In its most basic functioning, the PBMR is a research tool that affords the user the ability to navigate Pompeii’s landscape and discover an extensive account of the information about that location, including (but not limited to) name, type, images, size and bibliography. Students and the public will need no special training to find and access information; they can simply search the subject repository or peruse the map as easily as they use familiar web services. Academics will gain the ability to quickly conduct exhaustive searches on multiple subjects, simultaneously producing both a series of comprehensive bibliographies for each location and maps illustrating their spatial relationships in the landscape of Pompeii. Because performing either of these tasks today – conducting an exhaustive search or mapping the results – is prohibitively time consuming, the PBMR will revolutionize research on Pompeii, even in its most basic functionalities.

The GIS component provides a powerful mapping tool that can generate custom maps for diverse user groups. Students working on a particular building can create both overview and detailed maps to illustrate their study, which would be based on information provided by the PMBR as a research tool. Visitors and researchers to Pompeii both will use the map via mobile devices to navigate the actual ruins of Pompeii, a utility of great value considering the regular shortages of paper maps available to visitors at the site. Similarly, in the academic realm, the perennial problem of poor quality, lack of standardization, and differing interpretations of space in published maps can be overcome by the PBMR’s free access to mapping data, mapping tools and data versioning archive.

The most powerful use of the PBMR is as an analysis tool, as a means to simultaneously ask a series of questions and receive data-rich answers. The combination of the bibliographic database and GIS allows the user to vacillate between spatial analysis tools and bibliographic analysis tools, a process that produces results impossible to achieve in any other method. To illustrate this point, imagine the results of a multilingual search for “House / Casa / Haus / Maison” in the PBMR: hundreds of citations will appear along with hundreds locations highlighted in the map. Of course, these results are practically impossible to use. The spatial analysis tools, however, will permit a user to filter these results by the area each house occupied. Thus, a spatial query for houses between 100m2 and 400m2 will limit the results to only ‘average’ sized houses. These results can then be further refined by bibliographic criteria, such as year of publication, to find the houses investigated in the last twenty years. Finally, the user might once again choose a spatial characteristic to get at a still more nuanced picture of these houses. For example, she can search the refined results for those houses that ‘touch the boundary of’ or ‘contain’ a shop or workshop. The final results, produced in the matter of minutes rather than weeks, reveal the instances of and provide extensive documentation for those residences of average size that were most recently investigated and likely had a commercial profile.

These three modes of use make the PBMR a powerful resource for users across the spectrum of interest. Although the bibliography is populated with citations relevant to Pompeii and the GIS is based on maps of the ancient city, applying the model created by the PBMR to other subjects or disciplines in the humanities can be as simple as populating the shell with bibliographic and spatial data and building the connections between them. For example, other large, densely occupied archaeological sites such as Teotihuacan in Mexico or Angkor Wat in Cambodia could benefit from this system. Broader geographies are certainly possible as well, such as historical mapping of the bibliography of the crusades. Moreover, more disparate fields, such as English or other modern languages might map the literary landscapes of important genres: naturalists of the Romantic period, Victorian era London, or the diffusion and impact of early Buddhist texts. We believe that even simply visualizing the spatial relationships among texts (and the locations within them) will lead to new ways of thinking about the subjects.

Works Cited

Wallace-Hadrill 1994 Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.