About a month ago, Andrew Reinhard of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens announced a new digital tour of Ancient Corinth that accompanies the publication (in press) of Ancient Corinth: A Guide to the Site and Museum. The book, which will hit the market this fall, marks the first guidebook to Corinth published by the ASCSA in over half a century, and it should offer a total overhaul of the sixth edition of the old guidebook. Here’s a description of the new (physical) guidebook:
“This is the first official guidebook to the site of Ancient Corinth published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 50 years. Fully updated with the most current information, color photos, maps, and plans, the Corinth Site Guide is an indispensable resource for the casual tourist or professional archaeologist new to the site. The Guide begins with a history of Corinth and its excavations, followed by a tour of the museum. The Guide continues with a route inside the fenced area of the archaeological site from the Temple of Apollo to the Bema to the Peirene Fountain and more. The final section describes the ancient monuments outside the fence: the Odeum, the Theater, and the Asklepieion, and then the various remains of Ancient Corinth located within and outside the ancient Greek walls, including the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore and the Lechaion Basilica. Short bibliographic notes for many entries lead the reader to fuller descriptions of monuments, objects, and concepts. A glossary is also provided. Interspersed between descriptions of 69 monuments are seven Topographical Notes and focus boxes on special topics such as geology, Pausanias, St. Paul, and prehistoric Corinth and the Corinthia.”
What makes this seventh edition of the guidebook particularly interesting is that the ASCSA partnered with Google to make much (all?) of the content of the guide available for free via Google’s Field Trip app (which you can download here for iPhone and here for Android). In fact, given the partnership with Google, the app enhances and even changes the reader’s experience of the tour. As their press release notes, “You will be notified by your device’s GPS when you approach any of over 50 Corinth monuments. View images, descriptions, links to more information on ascsa.net, and related Hesperia articles. Field Trip frees you to tour Ancient Corinth however you like in whatever direction you choose.” In other words, you can jump in and out of tour from anywhere on site and are not constrained by the linear presentation that the physical guidebook assumes. All you need is a phone and connection.
As for the app itself, the iPhone page notes that
“Field Trip runs in the background on your phone. When you get close to something interesting, it will notify you and if you have a headset or bluetooth connected, it can even read the info to you. Field Trip can help you learn about everything from local history to the latest and best places to shop, eat, and have fun. You select the local feeds you like and the information pops up on your phone automatically, as you walk next to those places.”
Field Trip works just as this description suggests. When I downloaded and loaded the app, a map appeared showing my location as a blue dot in Camp Hill, PA, with yellow dots representing the sites in surrounding Harrisburg. There are cards for monuments, churches, synagogues, and sites associated with Harrisburg’s place in the American Revolution, Civil War, City Beautiful, and historic floods, among many others. Clicking on the dots loads cards containing photos and information related to the place, and external links to relevant sites. The app, which is designed especially for, well, “field trips,” spotlights sites in the vicinity of your current location. The designers have not yet made it easy for “virtual” field trips.
I was curious, though, whether I could access the Corinth tour virtually from my home in south-central Pennsylvania. I discovered that I could, in fact, but not as easily as I would have expected. The app does not include, so far as I can see, an inbuilt search feature that will zip you around the world instantaneously to another place like Ancient Corinth, but it does include a global map, which you can slide to any location in the world by zooming out and then in.
I was disappointed at first to see no yellow dots over Ancient Corinth and assumed the app didn’t work from remote location, but the cards appear once you zoom into close range.
Unfortunately, the app is really not designed for this purpose. For example, you can’t save your particular place on the map if you’ve strayed far from home, and if you’re looking at Ancient Corinth from Harrisburg, PA, and accidentally tap on the “Map” or “Nearby” button on the bottom, and (sometimes) the “Back” arrow when looking at a card, it will teleport you back to where you actually are.
These foibles aside, there’s still much to gain from a virtual field trip. There are dozens of cards with up-to-date information and scores of beautiful high-quality color and B&W photos. In their brevity, the cards oversimplify the debates over particular places in the Corinthian landscape, but they do hint at the scholarly controversies. I was glad, for example, to see in the discussion of the fortification walls of Corinth the two hypotheses about the date of the Late Roman wall, the Theodosian and Justinianic. The cards also link to additional information beyond the app, although the external links to bibliography are selective.
Two other things struck me as I was using this app and thinking ahead about teaching this upcoming year. First, as I work today on my syllabus for a course in Historical Archaeology, I’m considering having my students take the virtual tour of Corinth and see what they can do with both the urban topography of Corinth and the ways that archaeologists construct knowledge in a landscape. The aerial view, in particular, could encourage students to consider the city in terms of topography and natural resources.
Second, as I’m planning for another field school and museum program with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project in Cyprus, I’m struck by how easy it could be to create Field Trip cards (or use those that already exist) for the sites of Cyprus, which form our itinerary when we visit the island in late May.