Word Screen Park
Kevin McMahon
Archival walls to archival screens: some post-classical precedents

My presentation at UCLA's Department of Information Studies's 2010 Reimagining the Archive conference first aired a line of thought linking epigraphic walls and digitial media.

The conference website has archived my script and powerpoint images here. My story begins in 1546 ...


... when a group of workers digging in the Roman Forum discovered fragments of a list of consuls and generals that had originally been part of the Parthian Arch of Augustus (19 BCE).

The Fasti Consulari fragments were immediately appropriated by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese as historic treasures. Within two years the fragments were installed in a wall of the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, in a setting designed by Michelangelo. Similar epigraphic walls were subsequently built throughout Europe from the Czech Republic to Scotland, and were assembled from the era of the Medici to the era of Mussolini.

A bit after the era of epigraphic walls, in 1978, the cultural affairs department of the city of Rome began producing the Roman Summer, including a series of open-air movie screenings at the city’s most famous historic sites such as an American film noir series at the Colosseum in 1982, and a screening of William Wyler’s Ben Hur in the Circus Maximus in 1984.

Thirty years after the Roman Summer screenings, the first cartellone pubblicitario digitale (digital billboard) was installed in Rome.

This is a story of ...

Archival walls and screens as events in public space. From medieval walls assembled out of recycled spolia to open-air screenings. New media are assumed to have broken up the crowd, and yet, in the last decade there has been a global renaissance of open-air big-screen events. The challenge to archives.   Archival walls and screens reflecting changing norms of access, quotation, appropriation—from the creation of intellectual property with the advent of printing to access debates today. ...