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Interview: John R. Clarke


ACLS Humanites E-Book (HEB) is pleased to announce the upcoming release of Oplontis Villa A (“of Poppaea”) at Torre Annunziata, Italy, Volume 2: The Decorations, Stucco, Pavements, Sculptures, edited by John R. Clarke and Nayla K. Muntasser. This is the second of four volumes devoted to the archaeological discoveries made at the Villa A site at Oplontis (Torre Annunziata, Italy). 

The Oplontis Project is an initiative operating under the direction of John R. Clarke and Michael L. Thomas of the University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, as well as an international team of scholars working in multiple disciplines. These titles are open-access and exclusively offered in the ACLS Humanities E-Book collection live on Fulcrum. 

Recently, Dr. Clarke sat down with HEB’s Lee Walton to discuss what readers and scholars can expect in Volume 2, details on some of the work conducted at the site, and why a digital publishing offering is critical to the work at Oplontis. 

Don’t miss Volume 1, Oplontis: Villa A (“of Poppaea”) at Torre Annunziata, Italy.


Bust of Hercules

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HEB: Provide an introduction for yourself and your involvement in the Oplontis Project.

Clarke: I am Regents Professor of the History of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. I specialize in the study of ancient Roman architecture, mosaics, and wall paintings and I also work on the full range of Roman imagery insofar as it indicates people’s attitudes towards the practices of everyday life. I’ve published books on ancient sexuality, art in the lives of ordinary Romans, and humor.

I got involved with Oplontis in the 1980s when I studied and published some rare mosaics and wall paintings at Villa A (popularly called the “Villa of Poppaea”). The current Oplontis Project began around 2005, when Michael Thomas, who had done his Ph.D. with us at Texas, said:  “Let’s see if we can get a permit to work on Oplontis; it’s still not published after all these years.” To my surprise, the Italian Ministry of Culture gave us permission to conduct new excavations and to study all of the material in storage, including impressive amounts of wall painting, mosaics, and ceramics.

HEB: What are some of the challenges you faced in the site work for both Villa A and B?

Clarke: Immediately we realized that because Villa A is so big—there are 99 excavated spaces including a 61-meter swimming pool—it was going to be very difficult to publish it in a print format. In order to comply with contemporary archaeological standards, we had to study and illustrate every surface in its actual state. We realized that we could do this with much greater accuracy using digital photography and 3-D modeling. So we teamed up with the Kings Visualization Lab at Kings College London to create a navigable 3-D model that records both the current state of Villa A and allows a viewer to switch to views that show Villa A as it was in antiquity. 

We also discovered from scouring through all of the available documents that there were huge gaps in our knowledge. There are 7 years which are I call “the lost years,” for which we don’t even have excavation reports. So I went out into the community to find photographs, I dug in forgotten archives, and I found evidence that allowed me to reconstruct how they excavated the villa. That was one big problem—figuring out where they were digging, when and what they found. The records got better in the 1970s, but not good enough to show us everything we wanted to know, so we had to fill in the blanks through close analysis of the objects and the architecture that remains.

Vol. 2 Cover

Another big challenge was to analyze masses of wall painting that hadn’t been restored or put back into place. I took on the task of cataloging every single piece of painted plaster from the villa—about 5,000 items. One of the most exciting results came from one of our architects, Timothy Liddell. Using digital tools, Tim as able to reconstruct two enormous beautiful fresco decorations from many fragments. We were able to exhibit these reconstructions using the actual fragments in the exhibition, “Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero,” which traveled to three museums in the U.S. (2016-2017). 

The renown sculptures from Villa A have languished for 40 years in storage. Eric Moormann took on the challenge of cataloguing them, and we used 3-D laser scanning to record them so that we could also place them back in their original settings in our virtual model.

We knew very little about the provenance of the sculpture as well as the great quantity of precious marbles used for the decorative elements of Villa A. A team of scientists samples them and conducted isotopic and other analyses. By matching their isotopic signatures with those of quarries throughout the Mediterranean, we found that the owners were extremely wealthy. For instance, they brought in monolithic columns from the Island of Lesbos (which has a special kind of gray marble) and they employed precious colored marbles from all over Mediterranean for the floors and walls of the Villa.

Other specialists analyzed pollen, seeds, wood, and soil to understand what the planted areas of the garden. The gardens of Villa A  are particularly important because they were the first to be subjected to archaeo-botanical analysis back in the 1970s; we were able to extend this study with new scientific techniques.

Villa B (popularly called the “Villa of Lucius Crassius Tertius”) was not a villa at all, but rather a large commercial complex dedicated, among other things, to the bottling of wine for shipment around the Mediterranean. Our ceramics experts, led by Jennifer Muslin, have studied over 1,300 containers (amphoras), while Alessadra Pecci examined the organic residues (of wine and cork) using recently-developed techniques. We are currently studying other organic remains, including the 54 human skeletons of the individuals who perished in the eruption. Since the original excavations stopped at the A.D. 79 level, Ivo van der Graaff, our chief archaeologist, has guided a large team of excavators to explore the earlier history of the complex, which we can now date back to 120 B.C.

HEB: What is most exciting about Volume 2 of the Oplontis series?

Clarke: Volume 2 is amazing because it provides for the first time an in-depth view of the decorative apparatus of Villa A, illustrating in unprecedented detail all of the celebrated frescoes, pavements, and sculptures of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The photography, directed by  Paul Bardagjy, is amazing. Readers will be able to study and enjoy over 2,700 high-resolution color images. There are details of everything from tiny birds and flowers to imposing whole-wall compositions, and this is only possible because of digital photography. For example, there are rooms that very deep with extremely high walls. The only way to you can record them is combine multiple images digitally, so that readers can examine entire spaces for the first time. Even if you go to the site you can’t see them because of the poor lighting and the safety barriers.


I’m also really excited about the fact that we were able to reconstruct so much. One of our architects, Paolo Baronio, used archival photographs and drawings to make accurate reconstructions of rooms that were visible at the time of excavation in the 1960s and 1970s, but that today have faded beyond recognition. Thanks to these highly-detailed reconstructions, readers will be able to see what today, unfortunately, is invisible.

Then there are surprising discoveries coming from our excavations. For instance, deep in one of our trenches we found a large fragment of a wall painting that was discarded when the owner decided to remodel one of the rooms. We found that it matches the wall painting of a standing room, a fact confirmed by chemical analysis of the pigments. There’s also a wonderful chapter by Pietro Baraldi, a chemist who conducted pigment analysis using Raman spectroscopy, sampling, and high resolution digital microscopy. His work advances our knowledge of ancient painters and the materials they used.

HEB: What benefits does digital publishing offer scholarly authors?

Clarke: Well, first of all, it’s a capacious instrument. You have an  ample platform without the limits imposed by print publication, particularly on the size and number of illustrations. Also, the links are amazing. In Volume 1, we link you directly to the excavation notebooks; if you want to check something, you can look at the original handwriting. We will also link this series on Villa A to our 3-D model. Archival representation is also  extremely important. In every excavation there is a great amount of documentation that may be of interest to a few scholars but not to everybody. In a digital volume you can put that all together in a way that would be cost- prohibitive in a print volume.

HEB: Who is the primary audience for this work and are there any other audiences that can benefit from engaging with the title?

Clarke: The intended audience is the scholar of ancient history, art, archaeology, and scientific applications in archaeology. I would also include anyone interested in what life in ancient villas was like: readers who enjoying looking and learning about beautiful wall paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. These objects, presented in context, allow everyone to imagine themselves in this huge luxury space. The idea, of course, is that the wealthiest of Romans acquired imposing sites along the Bay of Naples to build their villas, and this volume. As detailed in volume 1, Oplontis had a breathtaking view. Here the owners entertained their peers and political allies; it was here that they exercised their power and brokered their social status.


HEB: What do you hope readers take away from Vol. 2?

Clarke: That there’s a lot to be learned from not just from art history and archaeology, but also from science. That science can teach us so much about what the ancient world looked like and how it operated. What is more, readers will gather new insights into how painters, mosaicists, and sculptors worked, what kind of materials they used and even how much they cost. Above all, they will experience an aspect of the Roman world that has captivated both scholars and the general public since Pompeii was first discovered back in 1748.

HEB: While editing Villa A did the story or your ideas evolve?

Clarke: They did, particularly because I was able to engage authors from many different disciplines. Our 19 contributors include scholars as well as architects and visual artists; highly specialized scientists using cutting-edge technologies; and of course archaeologists and historians of Roman art and archaeology. Given this amazing team, so much new information and so many unprecedented perspectives emerged.

The other thing I’d say is that we went into great depth in a way that we didn’t think we were going to be able to because of all the new tools—especially the digital and scientific ones—that we were able to employ. These tools, in the hands of our experts, make this volume special and unique. We’ve also created a model—thanks to the HEB series—that demonstrates how effective digital publication can be for bringing the past to life.

Women’s History Month 2019

National Women’s History Month is celebrating its 31st anniversary. Since 1988 US presidents have issued annual proclamations designating the month of March a Women’s History Month. But before we Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day paved the way for US women to petition the government to pronounce March as Women’s History Month. 

In the early 1900’s the world saw population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. As ideas began to cultivate people began to stand up to the change in lifestyle and the oppression that followed. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first “National Woman’s Day” (NWD) was observed across the United States on February 28th, 1909. Two years later, in 1911, “International Women’s Day” was honored for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19.

1917’s International Women’s Day

“International Women’s Day” was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

Several years later in February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as “National Women’s History Week” (in the United States). 

President Jimmy Carter’s original message to the nation, designating March 2-8, 1980 as “National Women’s History Week” was as follows:

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well. As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” – It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision.”

I ask my fellow Americans to recognize this heritage with appropriate activities during National Women’s History Week, March 2-8, 1980.

I urge libraries, schools, and community organizations to focus their observances on the leaders who struggled for equality – – Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Alice Paul.

Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people. This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

In 1981, responding to the growing popularity of “Women’s History Week”, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a Women’s History Week. That same year, 1981, Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28; this authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five consecutive years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” By 1986, fourteen states had declared March as “Women’s History Month”.

In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March, of each year, as “Women’s History Month”. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”

The National Women’s History Theme for 2019
Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence

(Originally Posted on National Women’s History Alliance)

The theme for 2019’s “National Women’s Month” is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.” This year we honor women who have led efforts to end war, violence and injustice, and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society. These women embraced the fact that the means determine the ends and thus developed nonviolent methods to ensure just and peaceful results.

Suffragists Protest October 1916

For generations, women have resolved conflicts in their homes, schools and communities. They have rejected violence as counterproductive and stressed the need to restore respect, establish justice and reduce the causes of conflict as the surest way to peace. From legal defense and public education to direct action and civil disobedience, women have expanded the American tradition by using inclusive, democratic and active means to reduce violence, achieve peace and promote the common good.

From women’s rights and racial justice to disarmament and gun control, the drive for nonviolent change has been championed by visionary women. These women consciously built supportive, nonviolent alternatives and loving communities as well as advocating change. They have given voice to the unrepresented and hope to victims of violence and those who dream of a peaceful world.

President Jimmy Carter saw the potential of the women’s movement back in 1981 after the rise of popularity with “International Women’s Day”. Presidents who succeeded Carter followed his example and continued to declare March “National Women’s History Month”, acknowledging the importance of women and human rights and promoting the idea equality.

ACLS Humanities E-Book would also like to emphasize the work women have done in the humanities and beyond. Below we have provided a list of suggested titles, available on the topics of “Women Suffrage”, “Peace & Non-Violence”, “House & Home” and “Women’s Studies”. This by no means is a completed list of books categorized under these topics, but a glimpse into these topic. Please feel free to take a look at the suggested Titles or search Fulcrum for more!

You can also check out our other book lists under Women’s Studies and Women & Religion on Pinterest.

Sign up for the NFAIS Humanities Roundtable!

Time is Running Out!

Sign Up for the 2019 NFAIS Humanities Roundtable Now!

ACLS Humanities E-Book is excited to be heading to Washington D.C. on March 10 to participate in the NFAIS Humanities Roundtable. This year’s theme, Evaluation of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities and Its Impact, offers the opportunity for scholarly publishers, researchers, and more to engage on the tools and methods of evaluating their output in today’s digital landscape. HEB is proud to have participated in past NFAIS roundtables and can vouch for how great the programming is!


Bonus: Since you will already be in D.C. for the Humanities Roundtable, you can stick around the capital area for a few days for the NHA Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day. Be part of the hundreds of scholars, administrators, publishers, and more taking to the Hill and encourage your elected officials to support the National Humanities Alliance!

Below are a few of the speakers you have the opportunity to see during the NFAIS Humanities Roundtable:

Laura Mandell

Laura Mandell

Professor, English, Director, Center of Digital Humanities Research (CoDHR), Texas A & M

Peer Review, Tenure, and Promotion for Digital Scholarship in the Humanities

John Sherer

John Sherer

Director, UNC Press

In Search of the Sustainable Digital Monographs

Sylvia Miller

Sylvia Miller

Senior Program Manager, Scholarly Publishing and Special Projects, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University

Publishing and Peer Review in a Postdigital Future

The American Civil Rights Movement

The American Civil Rights Movement

The civil rights movement was a struggle for social justice that continues to this day and is still being constantly evaluated by scholars across disciplines. Historically, the era currently known in American history as the Civil Rights movement mostly took place during the 1950s and 1960s. During this time African Americans and others identifying as Black were trying to gain equal rights under United States laws after years suffering under racist policies across the United States.

Little Rock Integration Protest

Following the civil war, Black people were continuously marginalized and kept separate from white Americans. Jim Crow laws gained ground in in 1896 when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which created the now widely-criticized “separate but equal”  doctrine. Fighting against the idea of “separate but equal” would become a key rallying point for organizers of the Civil Rights moving forward. In 1954, the Supreme Court made segregation illegal in public school in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. On November 14, 1956, the Supreme Courtruled segregated seating was unconstitutional after Rosa Parks help stage a boycott of the Montgomery bus system.

Greensboro Four sitting at a white only counter at Woolworth

Despite these changes within our government, Black Americans were still struggling with being accepted in white society but responded with mass protests. For example, on February 1st, 1960, four black college students took a stand against segregation in Greensboro, North Carolina. They refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter unless they were served (and they were not). For the next several days hundreds of people joined them during their peaceful sit in. Protests similar to the one done by the Greensboro Four encouraged and inspired other students to get involved in the civil rights movement.

Arguably one of the most famous events within the civil rights movements was the March on Washington which took place August 28, 1963. A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. organized and attended this march. More than 200,000 people, white and black, came together to peacefully march with the purpose of forcing civil rights legislation and establishing job equality for everyone. During this march Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic speech “I have a dream…”

Although the Civil Rights Movement brought forth progress there was a lot of resistance. Several peaceful protests were met with physical violence from observers and police. Police sprayed crowds of protesters with fire hoses and tear gas. Leaders and activists alike were sent death threats (bricks in windows, crosses on fire on their property, nooses hanging from trees). Unfortunately some of these threats were followed through and resulted in death. Two civil rights leaders were assassinated in the late 1960’s. Malcom X on February 21, 1965 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968; both died from gun shot wounds.

The civil rights movement was an empowering and yet trying time for America. With the effort and hard work of activist and protesters America was able make progress fighting against black voter suppression, segregation and discriminatory employment and housing practices. However, the fight continues to this day.


Below is a list of suggested Titles we have available on the topics of “The Civil Rights Movement” “Jim Crow” “Slavery is Rural Southern United States” “The American Civil War” and “Protesting while being a black student.” This by no means is a completed list of books categorized under these topics, but a glimpse into these topic. Please feel free to take a look at the suggested Titles or search Fulcrum for more!

HEB Titles on the American Civil Rights Era

A nation under our feet: black political struggles in the rural South from slavery to the great migration” by Steven Hahn

Black students in protest: a study of the origins of the Black student movement” by Anthony M. Orum

Civilities and civil rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black struggle for freedom” by William Henry Chafe


Color-blind justice: Albion Tourgée and the quest for racial equality from the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson” by Mark Elliott

Courage to dissent: Atlanta and the long history of the civil rights movement” by Tomiko Brown-Nagin

From Jim Crow to civil rights: the Supreme Court and the struggle for racial equality” by Michael J. Klarman

Growing up in the black belt: Negro youth in the rural South” by Charles Spurgeon Johnson

In struggle: SNCC and the Black awakening of the 1960s” by Clayborne Carson

Inventing the “American way”: the politics of consensus from the New Deal to the civil rights movement” by Wendy Wall

Jim Crow New York: a documentary history of race and citizenship, 1777-1877” by David N. Gellman and David Quigley

Reasoning from race: feminism, law, and the civil rights revolution” by Serena Mayeri

The Black revolution on campus” by Martha Biondi

The crucible of race: Black/White relations in the American South since emancipation” by Joel Williamson

The lost promise of civil rights” by Risa Lauren Goluboff


The politics of race in New York: the struggle for black suffrage in the Civil War era” by Phyllis F Field

The trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s first Black poet and her encounters with the founding fathers” by Henry Louis Gates

Watching Jim Crow: the struggles over Mississippi TV, 1955-1969” by Classen, Steven D.

What a woman ought to be and to do: Black professional women workers during the Jim Crow era” by Stephanie J.Shaw

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

This story originally appeared on The White House Office of the Press Secretary .

– – – – – – –

One hundred and fifty years ago, our Nation codified the fundamental truth that slavery is an affront to human dignity. Still, the bitter fact remains that millions of men, women, and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking. This month, we rededicate ourselves to assisting victims of human trafficking and to combating it in all its forms.

Human trafficking occurs in countries throughout the world and in communities across our Nation. Children are forced to fight as soldiers, young people are coerced into prostitution, and migrants are exploited. People from all walks of life are trafficked every day, and the United States is committed to remaining a leader in the global movement to end this abhorrent practice. My Administration has made addressing human trafficking issues in supply chains a priority. Earlier this year, the White House brought together private sector and non-governmental organizations to discuss ways to prevent and eliminate trafficking-related activities in Federal contracts and in private sector supply chains. Our National Convening on Trafficking and Child Welfare helped promote partnership and establish coordinated action plans to end human trafficking. Additionally, my Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has proposed a robust set of initiatives. Our anti-trafficking efforts are supported by a newly established Federal Office on Trafficking in Persons, under the Department of Health and Human Services, which helps ensure trafficking victims can access the services they need.

As we work to end human trafficking here in the United States, we will continue to lead the effort to root it out around the world. Our intelligence teams have devoted more resources to identifying trafficking networks, law enforcement officers have been working to dismantle those networks, and prosecutors have striven to punish traffickers. We have also enhanced our domestic protections so foreign-born workers better understand their rights. Additionally, my Administration has been working closely with technology companies and law enforcement to better utilize technology to combat human trafficking. And our Nation will continue promoting development and economic growth across the globe to address the underlying conditions that enable human trafficking in the first place.

All nations have a part to play in keeping our world safe for all people — regardless of age, background, or belief. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, let us recognize the victims of trafficking, and let us resolve to build a future in which its perpetrators are brought to justice and no people are denied their inherent human rights of freedom and dignity.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 2016 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, culminating in the annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1. I call upon businesses, national and community organizations, families, and all Americans to recognize the vital role we can play in ending all forms of slavery and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.


Human trafficking has been in existence for centuries and it wasn’t until the early 1900s that nations have attempted to define and respond to some aspects of human trafficking law. In 2000, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Publish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (hereafter known as Protocol) was passed. This supplemented the UN connection against Transnational Organized Crime (originally started in and organized in 1914). According to Article 3(a): The Protocol specifically defines trafficking as: 

  (a)…the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboruring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. 

Not Born a Refugee Woman: Contesting Identities, Rethinking Practices by Maroussia Hajdukowski-Ahmed, Nazilla Khanlou and Helene Moussa (Berghahn Books Inc., 2009 ) gives a brief insight to transnational sex trafficking of woman. Check it out at fulcrum!