Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ghosts of ancient buildings

One of things I like to do with Google Earth is look at places like London or Rome and try to make out the path of the old city walls. Often, with the help of a period map, you can see where a modern street shadows the old perimeter.

Sometimes, though, you can see the "ghost" of an old building by the outline of the street or by the shape of the modern buildings on that spot. One of the better places to see what I'm talking about is the former site of Pompey's Theatre in Rome. Pompey's Theatre was, among other things, the site of Julius Caesar's assassination. Parts of the interior ruins have been excavated and are visible to the public, but most of the ruins are still underground. If you look a few blocks west of the excavated area, though, you'll see a narrow street (or maybe a pedestrian walkway) and modern buildings that follow the path of the theatre's great, round facade.

After you launch GE, take a peek at this photo to get a sense of what this part of Rome used to look like.

In the beginning

I suppose I should explain what I'm doing here. I'll try to do it without writing my autobiography.

About six years ago, I began studying the history of Ireland, from whence my parents came to the United States. It seemed like a culturally responsible undertaking, and there was a self-discovery angle in there, too. I bought and borrowed a lot of books on the subject. Most of them were monographs from academic presses.

I discovered two things early on. The first one seems pretty obvious now. One can't really appreciate the history of Ireland without also studying a lot of the history of the rest of Europe, especially Britain. Properly studying Britain, in turn, requires one to study things like ancient Rome and medieval Europe.

The second thing I discovered is that your typical Barnes & Noble doesn't carry very many popular histories of Ireland, and that the ones they do carry seem unnecessarily dry.

So, a little more than two years ago, I set a long-term goal for myself of writing a popular history of Ireland. I still have an awful lot of reading and research to do before I can begin. But I've got all this stuff bouncing around in my head and I feel like getting some of it into words.

That's where this blog comes in. I intend it to be a sandbox where I can experiment with writing about historical topics. Much of it will be redundant, especially to anyone who's studied history themselves. Don't look for deep insights here.

But if you find one by mistake, please tell me.