Wednesday 11 May 2011

Herculaneum. Past and Future. PART 1: General overview, a response

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Herculaneum. Past and Future.
(Frances Lincoln, 2011; 352 pages, ISBN-10: 0711231427; ISBN-13: 978-0711231429)
(For the introduction to this series of posts about Herculaneum Past and Future, see here.)

Posted on behalf of Jeremy Hartnett:

While we’re talking about overall impressions of Herculaneum: Past and Future, here are a few of my own. First, it bears repeating that this is a beautifully produced book. The color photographs are abundant and luscious, on par with what one would expect of a “coffee table” book. Anyone who hasn’t visited Herculaneum will be struck by the richness of the remains. This book does justice to a stunning site.

But, as Jo mentioned earlier, this book isn’t just for the layperson. To those who have studied the site it offers many insights (some of which I hope to touch on in a later post), and it will also serve advanced undergraduates very well. It’s easy, in fact, to imagine working through each of its short, swift, and eminently-readable chapters in a class period. The book is ready-made for lectures, but it’s also terrific fodder for classroom discussions, since Wallace-Hadrill does not simply present the material from the site, but simultaneously raises questions about methodology and exposes the process of doing archaeology and writing history (and, in some cases, re-doing and re-writing). I hope the publisher will consider a slightly “stripped down” paperback edition of the book for university audiences. The price of the book in its current form is very reasonable, given the wealth of visual material, but a more student-friendly size (this version barely fits in a backpack) and price would also find receptive buyers.

Funerary urn of Charles Walston (Waldstein), a Roman vase donated by Amedeo Maiuri (courtesy James Walston and with the permission of Frances Lincoln). 

Virtually every chapter of the book presents new material from the Herculaneum Conservation Project, from the town’s geological history and evidence of bradyseism along the shorefront to fascinating material from the great sewer running in front of the Insula Occidentalis and artifacts uncovered during cleaning in public buildings and Bourbon cunicoli. Wallace-Hadrill mentions at several points a too-frequently-bypassed figure in the history of Herculaneum: Charles Waldstein, a Cambridge professor who rallied an international cast in the early twentieth century to promote excavation at the site. In fact, Waldstein’s own co-authored book about the city, Herculaneum: Past, Present, & Future (with Leonard Shoobridge, 1908), provided the inspiration for this book’s title. Though Waldstein’s ambitions went unrealized during his life, they have in many ways been satisfied and expanded by the HCP, which has brought together contributors from many nationalities for an interdisciplinary project that expands our knowledge of the site while preserving the archaeological patrimony for future generations. Herculaneum: Past and Future, in addition to providing an excellent introduction to the site, gives a taste of the fascinating scientific conclusions of the HCP. It will pique the appetite of scholars for the full publication of this project’s discoveries by its team of specialists.

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