University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Getting the Right Perspective

By: and Emily French

September 10, 2018

This summer, I got to spend two awesome months in Italy. I am a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program, recently recovered from my last year of coursework and PhD exams and about to jump headfirst into a dissertation. This summer was particularly valuable for me at this transitional stage, as I gained new and valuable perspectives on the work I have been doing for the last several years.

For the first several weeks of the summer, I returned for the third year to the excavations at Cosa, a site about 2 hours northwest of Rome, where we are investigating the city’s bath complex. Some of the goals of the project are to clarify the layout of the baths, situate them in the city plan, and understand how the water supply system worked as Cosa is a naturally waterless site! Working here has allowed me to excavate fascinating finds and architectural features, and this summer was no different. This year I had a new role and a new perspective on the excavations: I helped make 3D models of the trench I worked in. This involves taking numerous pictures of the area in a systematic way and using a computer program to stitch them all together. Making these 3D models will allow us to record significant moments during the season and create better documentation for the future. We took photos for models around 12 times – moving around the trench and taking photos this frequently really helped me think about the trench in new ways! (To learn more about Cosa, visit

A snapshot of a 3D model in progress, from about the midway point of the excavations. Photo by the author.

After Cosa, I went to Rome and participated in the American Academy in Rome’s Classical Summer School. This intense six-week program involved countless visits to museums and archaeological sites, lectures, and opportunities to meet various scholars at the Academy. As I move away from coursework and into my dissertation, this program was a perfect way for me to think about my own work, reevaluate the art and archaeology that I have been studying for years, and gain new perspectives. Sometimes those perspectives were zoomed in, looking at art in person in ways I can’t through books:

A close-up of a statue in the Museo Centrale Montemartini in Rome, showing the preserved paint and gold leaf. Photo by the author.


And sometimes those perspectives were zoomed out, allowing me to look at monuments not open to the public and think about their positions within the topography of Rome:

The Mausoleum of Augustus, as seen from the roof of a Croatian church. Photo by the author.

Certainly my favorite new perspective that I gained this summer was one that required some creativity. My dissertation will involve floor mosaics, including the Nile Mosaic at Palestrina, which we visited as part of the program. Though most Roman mosaics were pavements, they are often displayed on walls in museums and head-on in photographs. My research rests on re-placing these mosaics into floors, so one of my colleagues in Art History, Alyssa Garcia, and I did our best to recreate the experience of seeing this incredible mosaic under our feet. Seeing this mosaic for the first time was a huge leap for my research and experiencing it (almost) like an ancient viewer would have was an amazing opportunity!

Alyssa Garcia (left), PhD student in Art History at Penn, and the author (right) pretending the Nile Mosaic at Palestrina is in the floor. Photo by Eric Leveque.

And, of course, ever present was the perspective we always need to keep in mind – that though we study and love the ancient world, we are indeed approaching it from a modern point of view.

An airplane flying over the ancient city of Ostia. Photo by the author.


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