How can we use events to help us imagine cities? As a Visualizing Cities Lab Fellow this semester, I was afforded a memorable opportunity to explore this question wearing a humanistic yet applied thinking cap.
I began by building my conceptual foundation as our lab contemplated how our event cities—Athens, Tokyo, Chicago, and Venice—harnessed the idea of spectacle through their urban lores. We thought about how events like carnivals, world fairs, and Olympic games often represented antipodal symbologies: immersion, irenicism, progress, and triumph versus artificiality, segregation, destruction, and regression.
Our metro-curiosity stirred, we were then introduced to a bevy of research methodologies whose applications were most useful to our work. We learned how to conduct comprehensive source analysis, how to compile information using the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, and how to systematize our work archivally (through Omeka) and geospatially and panoramically (through Neatline).
Then, with our research cups runneth over, we were discharged into our city teams. I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Sheila Dillon, Xinqian, Charlie, and Vaneesha as Team Athens. Our event focus was the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games, and to get my Greek on, I watched the opening ceremony. It was spectacular, and I was particularly interested in one portion of the inaugural parade. Filled with scenes from Greek history and culture, that section was meant to be a celebration of Hellenism (both ancient and modern), yet having never researched Greece nor Athens, let alone visited the Mediterranean Basin, I felt what can be best described as enthusiastic bewilderment.
And after realizing with Dr. Dillon there was no publicly available script for what these parade scenes were referencing, I decided to employ my newfound abilities in Omeka to identify the various references present in “Allegory” and “Klepsydra” (the two main movements of the opening parade). You can find the collection Dr. Dillon and I curated here: https://athens.visualizingcitieslab.org/collections/show/1. The process of curating these materials was a temporospatial blast into the past. We started our scavenge in Minoan times (with the Minoan Snake Goddess), passing through the Mycenaean and Classical periods, all the way to Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greece. We stumbled on familiar edices, as well as more obscure scenes taken from various period frescos and amphoras. We tangled with myths, fantasy, and folk tradition. Doing so our project began to not only exhibit Athens in the past but Athens in present. The collection I’ve gathered thus not only serves as an epiphenomenal documentation of Athens 2004, but I also hope it functions as a celebration of both Athens’ historical continuity and its current multicultural and multiethnic diversity.
I am grateful to have done this work with a vibrant community of scholars. Thank you to the fellows, graduate students, faculty, and specialists who made me excited about their work, as well as mine. Διασκέδασα τόσο πολύ!