Visual Resources boosts visiting graduate student Kristina Zielke's research

May 30, 2024

Director of Visual Resources Julia Gearhart and Digital Project Specialist Leigh Lieberman recently interviewed Kristina Zielke, a visiting graduate student in A&A from the Freie Universität Berlin, about her work in Visual Resources's archives.

Their conversation follows:

Q: What brought you to Visual Resources/how did you hear about us?

My supervisor first mentioned Visual Resources during a brief tour of Green Hall. A few weeks later, a friend and colleague told me again about his good experience at Visual Resources and recommended looking for archival material on Olympia.

Aman with a white fedora leans on an ancient stone wall

One of the hand-colored glass lantern slides labeled “Olympia” in the Visual Resources collection. It is unclear exactly who this man is, but he could possibly be Wilhelm Dörpfeld

Q: What were you expecting from the visit? Was it what you expected or different?

As I had already studied the archival material on Olympia in Berlin, Athens and also Olympia, I did not initially have particularly high expectations of finding something unknown to me. As I am working on the boundaries and limitations of Olympia from a longue dureé perspective, I already knew that free-standing walls were usually overlooked by excavators or tourists. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find photographs of Prof. Richard Stillwell as a former Professor at Princeton, who obviously shared my soft spot for walls and documented them. This was a happy coincidence for my research question. As research of ancient walls (whether fortification or otherwise) have received more attention in recent years, Prof. Stillwell’s collection of walls forms an important collection for comparative studies.

Q: Was it helpful to your research? How?

The visit to Visual Resources was very helpful for my work. Thanks to Stillwell’s photographs, images of various walls and water channels have been preserved, which can no longer be seen today as the walking level has been raised to improve accessibility for tourists. In addition, some photographs show wall structures that are now in a poor state of preservation and thus reflect the condition shortly after being excavated. This helps significantly to get a picture of them before being exposed to almost 150 years of weathering. I also came across a photo that shows a specific wall in Olympia down to its foundation, which underlined my thesis on the walls origin and it’s dating.

Q: What is your experience using (and working in) archaeological archives or photographic archives? How do they feature in your research?

Since the excavations in Olympia took place at a time when photographs were very expensive and time-consuming, my work is largely dependent on archives. Particularly in the case of archaeological sites that have a longer modern history due to early excavations, reports or photographs are often the only source of information about the in situ state. Archaeological sites are not frozen in time after being excavated. The monuments are exposed to the weather, natural disasters, as well as humans and animals. Additionally, the desire to make the sites attractive for tourism requires certain measures of accessibility and preservation. The first major excavation in Olympia took place in 1875-1881, since then the terrain changed considerably. Paths were installed for tourist accessibility, and, in the process, numerous disruptive structures were removed, the walking level was raised, restorations were carried out. Comparing photographs over the course of time can therefore be essential for building research.

Stone ruins

Row of ruins to West of the Echo Colonnade, Olympia, Greece (Image 253081, Richard Stillwell Collection, Visual Resources)

Q: Can you describe the relationship (similarities, differences, etc.) between archival research and excavation? How, in your mind, can the two research practices support each other?

All fieldwork is based on thorough and objective documentation. Every excavation is a destruction of otherwise untouched ground as the excavated soil can never be reversed. Therefore, the archival studies are oftentimes a prerequisite for starting fieldwork, to ensure that an excavation has not already taken place at the selected site in earlier times. Sometimes trenches get filled in again after the work was completed in order to ensure the preservation of certain structures. In this case, the documentation of the finds that are no longer visible (e.g. reports, excavation diaries, drawings, photos) are essential to research and may offer the possibility of new interpretations in later times, if more knowledge about a certain topic could be gained.


Contact Julia Gearhart to learn more about the historic photograph collection.