A conversation about Pamela Long’s Engineering the Eternal City

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Interview conducted by Richard Calis and Lillian Datchev

For this podcast, we spoke with Dr. Pamela Long about her latest book, Engineering the Eternal City: Infrastructure, Topography, and the Culture of Knowledge in Late Sixteenth-Century Rome (Chicago University Press, 2018). Following her most recent study of the “trading zones” between scholars and artisans in Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences, 1400-1600 (Oregon University Press, 2011), Dr. Long’s new book takes us into the heart of Rome at a moment when popes, humanists, and engineers came together to build a magnificent new city.

Threading together hundreds of archival documents, Dr. Long reveals how Rome recovered from an unrelenting series of disasters, first the 1527 Sack of Rome and then the great floods of 1530 and 1557. The city had become a filthy and decrepit place, streets were often quagmires of mud and sewage while thickets of brambles crowded out ancient ruins. But, while popes and governors dreamed of a city as clean and splendid as Augustus’, making it a reality was not so simple. Dr. Long makes vivid how throughout the sixteenth century individuals of diverse educational and professional backgrounds collaborated to observe and analyze the problems of urban reconstruction. In response, they attempted a wide range of solutions, which failed as often as they succeeded. By the end of the century, it became clear both that mathematics was essential to the building of bridges, aqueducts, and streets and to projects of epic scale like the transferring of giant obelisks, and that a vast and reliable source of funding was necessary to make it all possible.

In our interview, Dr. Long takes use through the intricacies of this fascinating story and shares with us how her work came to be, what it was like to work with dense and seemingly endless papal account books, and how a change discovery in the archives introduced her to the topic of her next project.

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