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Category: Athens

Vaneesha Patel, Fall 2021

Working in the visualizing cities lab, specifically with the team that focused on Athens was a great experience. My prior knowledge of Athens was limited, especially within the context of the 2004 Olympics. Therefore, I was eager to work with my team in exploring Athens as an event city. My particular interest was in the economic viewpoint of the event, especially how that was interpreted by the people of Athens, and how funding was used to fulfill a specific image. Through my research, I found that lots of construction went towards building things that would classify as new urbanism. Care was taken to improve the public realm, both for residents and visitors. Money was invested in things such as removing large and unsightly billboards from buildings and utilizing concepts of “innovative design” rather than refurbishing pre-existing buildings and structures. All of this helped me understand how an influx of funding was used to propel the built landscape of Athens in a direction that places emphasis on an aesthetic and accessible public realm.

This line of thinking stood in stark contrast to how residents of Athens, as well as international media, viewed the Olympics. Many news articles associate the Olympics with the economic collapse that occurred shortly after. I would be interested to explore whether this change of opinion was solely due to the economic turmoil, or if apprehensions over hosting the Olympics in Athens were pre-existing amongst its residents. I also found it interesting that investments that were made with the purpose to gain the support of the residents of Athens would ultimately have a negative connotation. I think that this speaks to a larger concern increasingly becoming associated with cities that host the Olympics, in that the economic gain from being a host city does not ultimately pay off, and it rather becomes a burden for its people.

Learning about Omeka and Neatline allowed me to visualize the concepts that I was uncovering in my research. With Omeka, I was able to pull together images, articles, and data and put them all in one place. Then using Neatline, I was able to represent this information spatially, which broadened my understanding of where certain types of investments were going. Initially, I thought it would be difficult to visualize any form of economic data. But I soon realized that this type of information could easily be visualized and that economic data does not only consist of numbers, but can also include videos, images, pieces of art, testimonies, and more.  While I focused on the economic viewpoint, other people on my team focused on different topics, which allowed me to view this event city from a variety of perspectives. This holistic approach showed me just how complicated cities are, and how focusing only on one element can lead you to miss out on other aspects that contribute to making cities so great. From knowing very little about Athens, to being able to think of it as an economic, artistic, and creative city, working in the visualizing cities lab has broadened my interpretation of what it means to be an event city.

Charlie Colasurdo, Fall 2021

Going into my third semester as a VCL fellow, I was very interested by the prospect of event cities. Growing up, some of my earliest television memories were of the Beijing 2008 Olympics—as a Sinophile, I was astounded to see China’s exposition onto the world stage through mass art projects, buildings like the Beijing Water Cube and national stadium. Visiting Beijing as a high school junior in 2016, I was equally impressed by the sheer sense of scale and power large events such as the Olympics can convey, alongside the culture and history of a city. I was also fascinated by the way nationalism intersected with building, a means of demonstrating a nation’s prowess through architecture and spectacle. China’s Olympics were a way of reintroducing the country to the world, especially as a place that was viewed as “closed off” and “backwards”, and how the country was able to skillfully manipulate public perceptions of itself through events.

In the fictitious sense, event cities are prominent in young adult fiction. From my childhood obsession of the hunger games, set in a futuristic society that draws upon the gladiator traditions of the Romans in a form of public spectacle. Panem et circenses “bread and circuses” was the way the fictional government of the Hunger Games kept the wealthy masses at bay. By providing food and entertainment, the government was able to strip citizens of their political rights in return for being satiated. This manifested in the architecture of the Capitol, a city whose design in the movies was inspired by the totalitarian edifices of Brutalist Europe and China. The city was designed around the spectacle of the hunger games, with wide open avenues to parade the “tributes” (contestants) complete with pedestrian stands and large public plazas to watch the Games, which are televised live. The architecture likewise conveys a sense of power and triumph through design—and complements the games as a tool to cultivate servant nationalism.

This semester, I was assigned to Athens. This was a unique opportunity to juxtapose the Ancient Greek home of the Olympics with the modern era’s 2004 games held in the city. In a similar vein as Beijing 2008, the Athens Games were designed with nationalism and ideals of cultural superiority that would evoke strong emotions among Athenians and Greeks alike. I was not surprised to see that the games went over budget in the billions of dollars, constructing stadiums that would later be abandoned amidst the Greek debt crisis. It’s ironic that the games, indented the symbolize the rejuvenation of the country, incidentally helped bring it to financial ruin. This helped me draw parallels to the Rio 2016 games and World Cup, where billions of dollars poured in to clear favelas (slums) and build stadiums that would be left to rot once international spectators went home. The economic impacts of such games are questionable, as they require substantial investment for seemingly little return. Maybe the value of international attention and good press is worth the high barrier to entry, but to me the Olympics and other spectacles seem to be unjustifiable from a cost standpoint. I enjoyed working with the team and Professor Dillon to map out the physical impact of the 2004 games on Athens. It was interesting to examine the human cost of the Olympics, and I am excited to see where next semester’s research brings us.

Xinqian Cai, Fall 2021

This semester I joined the Athens Team and focused on the “event city” topic, using 2004 Athens Summer Olympics as a case.

As a member of Athens team, I worked with my team members under the guidance of Prof. Dillon to build up an Omeka online public platform to collect and exhibit materials about 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. The Athens Omeka includes many different items, including the scenarios of the opening and closing ceremonies of 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, past and present architecture related to the Olympics Games, news reports of the Olympics Games, academic papers about the Olympics Games, and so on. I also applied my translation and linguistic knowledge in the Athens project and built up a word cloud relating the Olympics Games. First, I fetched the comments under the videos of Athens Olympic Games and formed a corpus; then used this corpus to generate a word cloud image. This word cloud image can show people’ s attitude toward Athens Olympic to some extent. From this word cloud image, history and culture are mentioned frequently. In addition to the themes of history and culture, two cities outside Greece, Beijing and Tokyo, are often mentioned too. Before I joined this lab, I had no ideas about how to visualize cities or how to apply my past experiences in visualizing a city. Now, I learned that I can use Omeka to build up an online public platform to collect and exhibit the materials about researching topics.

Aside from Omeka, I also learned how to use Neatline to visualize some materials. Neatline is beneficial for us to combine timeline, maps, words, and images together, which can help us to understand an event clearly. In this lab I also worked with the other two graduate students to learn how to use Neatline. Though we were not familiar with Neatline and encountered many difficulties at first, we finally mastered the skills of using Neatline and we felt excited when we built up our first Neatline. We were also happy to hold a workshop for the other members about how to use Neatline. In the Athens team, we took the Google map of Athens as the base and placed the items in our Athens Omeka to the base map. I have also improved my Neatline skills while doing the Neatline work of Athens Olympic Games.

Both Omeka and Neatline are strong and efficient tools for visualizing cities. In addition to these two tools, I also learned how to read and analyze newspapers from the visualizing aspect. In the past, I thought that I only needed to focus on the literal contents of newspaper, and I had never paid attention to the presentation of news reports. However, in this lab, I learned that not only the font and capital letter but also images and layouts can convey and imply much useful information.

In conclusion, I have learned many skills in this lab, including how to use Omeka and Neatline to visualize materials, and how to analyze the presentation of newspaper. Finally, as a team member of the Athens Team, I am grateful for the help of Prof. Dillon and happy to work with Nicole, Michael, Charlie, and Vaneesha.


Michael Cao, Fall 2021

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!

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