Reviewed December 2014
Jeff Ball, Associate Professor of Art History
Division of Visual, Performing, and Applied Arts, Harford Community College
The Classicizing Chicago Project is a Public Humanities Project sponsored by Northwestern University and its Classical Traditions Initiative with additional support from NU Library staff and faculty from Virginia Tech. Launched in 2010, the project’s aim is to capture the “cultural mingling” of the city’s Greek and Roman Classical influences through the lens of its architectural, theatrical, and educational legacies. The site is organized by general navigation categories including Essays, Research Notes, Datasets, and Images. The Essays and Research Notes categories feature, together, nine written works, some of which are illustrated. It is not yet evident how these two categories differ from one another as both provide signed articles and are accompanied by endnotes and/or a bibliography. The Images category is essentially the repository or database for all images referenced in the other sections of the project. It is possible to refine the list of images presented to the researcher by category but the only categories with images are the Theater and Architecture datasets.
The Datasets category is by far the most extensive with four sub-categories - Theater, Architecture, Education Philosophy, and Educational Theater. Each subcategory provides a sample of data records for the respective topics or concepts. For example, the dataset for “The Art Institute of Chicago” in the Architecture category provides detailed facts about the building, its architectural style and features, building materials, links to related images of the building, and more. However, this subcategory lacks the comprehensiveness evident in the other categories and each of the buildings featured are examined only in their Classical context; the Art Institute has had a number of additions since it opened in 1893, none of which are addressed in this particular dataset.
The Theater dataset is the most extensive with information about hundreds of productions in the Chicago area (from the last hundred years or so) of Classical works and works inspired by ancient sources (such as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). Much like the Architecture subcategory, these datasets feature essential facts about the subject such as production title, author, performing company, year of production, actors, and much more. Approximately a quarter of the entries include scanned images from playbills, ads, newspaper reviews, as well as photographs or video stills from select productions. The Education subcategories are “test” datasets which essentially track Classical philosophy, languages, and literature courses taught at NU between 1856 and 1943. While the information captured presents an interesting pedagogical history of these disciplines at NU, there is room for improvement in how this data is navigated; for example, there are dozens of datasets titled “Greek” in the Education category. Proper terms included in each dataset, across all subcategories, are hyperlinked so that one can retrieve every instance of “Xenophon,” “Beaux Arts,” or “the Theatre School” as represented throughout the project.
One can also search the project with the general keyword website search tool. “Orestes” will retrieve dozens of results that can then be refined with specialized facets or by date. In addition, one can perform a “map” search based on the term which will retrieve, via Google Maps, related locations where Orestes’s plays were performed.
The site has great potential with broad appeal. However, it feels like a beta site given that the scale of the project, between the images, essays, and datasets is somewhat lopsided; even NU notes that this is a fledgling effort. A troubling sign is that the site was last updated in January 2014, suggesting a lapse in ongoing development or routine maintenance. The few essays posted are of high academic rigor. This reviewer would be happy to see his own students using this scholarship as sources in their research. Given the breadth of the project’s scope and the possibilities for its growth through the inclusion of other disciplines, this project stands to provide valuable, interdisciplinary insight into a city’s embrace of the Classical and Roman periods.