Tice explores history of Rome through maps in Presidential Research Lecture

University of Oregon professor of Architecture James Tice delivered the Winter 2015 Presidential Research Lecture to a full house of students, faculty and community members on Friday evening.

Tice was joined by one of his collaborators, Erik Steiner, at the lecture on Friday. The pair led a team that designed an online interactive map of Rome based on the 1748 map of the city by Giambattista Nolli. The online map engine allows users to compare the historical map with a modern satellite view of the city while exploring different design elements, including gardens, fountains, and public spaces. Since the launch of the website, it has attracted approximately a quarter million people from around the world.

During his lecture on Friday, Tice gave an overview of the history of map-making in Rome, which extends back to the third century.

“Maps can assist with finding our way, but they also provide a window into understanding buildings, streets, and even people,” Tice said, opening his lecture, “They represent evolving patterns of politics, society, religion, and technology.”

As one of the most thoroughly documented cities in world, Rome has developed two distinct map-making traditions: pictorial representation of buildings and abstract depictions of the streets.

“The artistic energy that went into creating these maps is extraordinary,” Tice remarked, “Even when they are wrong—and all maps are wrong—they still contain a lot of useful information.”

Throughout his lecture, Tice depicted how these two traditions intersected and changed as technology and society evolved. In the early centuries of Roman map-making, maps were traditionally drawn with east oriented up, looking towards Jerusalem. In addition to offering incredible detail, the Nolli Map also re-oriented the city to magnetic north, marking major changes in scientific technology and how the citizens of Rome viewed their place in the world.

Tice began his study of Rome four decades ago as a graduate student at Cornell University. Most recently his research has involved collaborative, interdisciplinary projects with colleagues at UO, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, and Rome in the fields of geography, architectural history, archaeology, and computer sciences.

He is currently working on his third venture into interactive online maps related to Rome—the GIS Forma Urbis Romae Project: Creating a Layered History of Rome.

Many of the maps discussed in Professor Tice’s lecture are available to view as part of an exhibit in the Hayden Gallery, located in Lawrence Hall, through February 20.

Tice’s talk was the fifth Presidential Research Lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, and is delivered twice a year by the recipients of the Outstanding Research Career Award — one of the UO’s Research Excellence Awards.