Panorama photograph of the excavation site in Olympia by the Greek photographers Romaidis taken at the end of the first campaign and published in the first results of the excavation: Ernst Curtius, Friedrich Adler, Gustav Hirschfeld; Die Ausgrabungen zu Olympia I. Uebersicht der Arbeiten und Funde vom Winter und Fruehjahr 1875 - 1876, Berlin 1876, pl. 4-5
Project (2005-2006)

Strategies of Visualization in German Archeology, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

As an object-based science, classical archeology has to retrieve objects of investigation not only in the place where they were actually situated but also make them available to a broader scientific discourse often far removed from the physical site. Although archeologists stress that the autopsy of the object cannot be replaced by visual reproductions, there is a pressing need to refer to reproductions in comparative research, because the objects of archeological inquiry are dispersed all over the world (in different places, museums, and institutions). Moreover, archeologists have to retrieve their objects from the ground. Only by visualization of excavation finds and contexts can one retrieve the objects from the ground and transfer them onto the desk.

In the mid-nineteenth century, when classical archeology began to shape itself as an academic discipline, the new photographic technology offered itself as a practicable means for the reproduction of objects. Other instruments of replication and reproduction were at the same time both proven and available; drawings, prints, and plaster casts were used until the twentieth century. The choice of illustrative techniques depended not only on the status of the technical development, but had specific epistemological reasons.

This research project analyzed the direct and indirect consequences of this plurality of media to the formation of knowledge in archeology. It was based on case studies in the different contexts of archeological practice—especially Olympia and Pergamon—and followed the transformation of objects into images: from the excavation to the published results, to the collection and classification of material objects in books and in museums and to the broader reception in popular books, exhibitions, and journals. It compared published photographs or institutional picture libraries with numerous, although disparate, academic texts that accompanied discussions on the use and application of reproductive visual media for the demonstration of scholarly arguments. Its main focus was German archeology, which was compared to archeological research in other European countries, especially France.

The inquiry explored the communication between scholars, draftsmen, and photographers, in order to differentiate and explain the different contexts of pictures in a certain scientific field. It combined archeological visual strategies with practices in other fields, e.g., biology and art history, to draw connections between the sciences and the humanities, and thereby situated the project in the broader discussion on the historicity of scientific images and practices.