Interactive Topography with IIIF

Open Access to Photographs from the Ernest Nash Fototeca Unione Collection

  • Maureen Burns IMAGinED Consulting
  • Lavinia Ciuffa American Academy in Rome
Keywords: historic photograph collections, Fototecta Unione Collection


The Ernest Nash collection documents ancient Roman architectural monuments and associated archaeological artifacts in pre- and post-World War II Italy. What made Nash’s work significant, beyond capturing the present state of the ancient Roman monuments at a volatile historical moment, was the primacy of topographical photography and the systematic order he brought to this subject.

The American Academy’s Photographic Archive has contributed some of Nash's images to an open access, interactive website called the Urban Legacy of Ancient Rome. This geo-referenced digital resource reveals the ancient city of Rome in stunning detail and makes it possible to explore and examine approximately three thousand photographs housed in the Fototeca Unione Collection. They are available for viewing and zooming in but also can be used with IIIF-compatible viewers.

The Academy continues to digitize and describe the extended Fototeca Unione Collection with the generous support of the Kress Foundation and has recently made all of their image collections IIIF compatible. In partnership with Archivision and vrcHost, new high quality digital photography is being added to enrich these historical images with contemporary photographs of the same Roman monuments in order to document changes – whether conserved, restored, altered, reconstructed, re-sited, or destroyed.

This article provides a progress report on this demonstration project which is searching for efficiencies and learning more about what it takes to move digital photography into IIIF. Finding new ways to provide ready access and juxtapose historic and contemporary photography online builds upon the legacy of Nash's quality curation and scholarship to create an accessible, twenty-first century, online educational resource of interest and utility to scholars, students, and a wide audience of ancient Roman enthusiasts.


The Fototeca Unione project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Moreover, we would like to thank the American Academy in Rome, Photographic Archive Staff, and Sebastian Hierl, Drue Heinz Librarian of the American Academy in Rome. We would also like to sincerely thank Scott Gilchrist, founder of Archivision, for taking on the challenge of photographing Roman monuments for the Rome Revisited project and supporting it in so many ways as well as Andreas Knab of vrcHost for readily sharing his technological expertise, importing the new images and metadata into MDID, and making them IIIF compatible. Both of these generous colleagues support VRA conferences and a number of other VRA initiatives/activities–we appreciate their spirit of experimentation and collaboration.

Author Biographies

Maureen Burns, IMAGinED Consulting

Maureen Burns is an information professional with over 30 years of experience developing and managing teaching resources of analog and digital images at UC Irvine, the Getty Villa, and CSULB. Burns currently works on a consulting basis through IMAGinED providing support for the CSU Dominguez Hills Archives digitization projects and doing other image-focused work with Archivision/vrcHost on collection development, digitization, online discoverability and community accessibility. She is active in the Visual Resources Association as chair of the Awards Committee, while in the past Burns served as VRA president, director of the VRA Foundation, editor of the VRA Bulletin, and chair of the VRA's Southern California Chapter.

Lavinia Ciuffa, American Academy in Rome

Lavinia Ciuffa currently serves as Curator of the Photographic Archive at the American Academy in Rome. She has been working in the Photographic Archive since its creation in 1996. During these years, her responsibilities have changed several times. Initially hired to work on the conservation of the collection, Lavinia continues to use her conservation skills to set up guidelines for preservation projects, but her main responsibility has become the managing of staff working on the cataloging and digitization of the collections. Ciuffa has been a member of the VRA since 2007 and has chaired and participated in the VRA International Chapter since 2014.