Story Maps in the Classroom

Last Friday (17 March) we just gave another edition of our story map workshop for this year’s MA course Atelier Living Heritage, taught by Professors Knoeff and Santing of the History Department at the University of Groningen.

In this session I first discussed the spatial turn, how maps always tell stories, and what deep maps are. The students read Earley-Spadoni 2017 ahead of time and came up with a lot of good ideas on what deep maps are, focusing on the many layers that they can have.

We then talked about Story Maps as a way to convey a deep map, and then Alexandra explained what a story maps is, using a new example: On the Road to Healing. This new story from the Asklepieion in Pergamon focuses on the Sacred Way, or Via Tecta, that links the Asklepieion to Pergamon.

To open the On the Road story map separately, click here.
See also our growing collection of story maps on the Asklepieion here

I wrote a short text, gathered images, and Alexandra turned them into this exciting and immersive story map, which centers on the story of Tapari, who traveled to the Asklepieion in search of healing for their eyesight.
NB: spoiler alert – this is based on a real Tapari known from the inscription IvP III 111b!).

Using the text and images as pre-fab building blocks, students got to recreate this story map, while getting ideas about how they could use story maps in their own projects. They are all responsible for making some kind of public outreach, and towards the end we discussed how story maps might be a good way to communicate information of historical objects, architecture, events, or personal experiences (like Tapari’s). The students have a lot of individual projects going on, connected to different museums or collections in and around Groningen, and they had several interesting ideas about how to story maps could create a good link with their audience.

Alexandra has also instructed students from previous courses on the use of story maps. Another recent MA course at Groningen, Urban Timescapes in the Graeco-Roman World, which focused on the use of temporal narratives in establishing social and political presence, through sanctuaries, public spaces, and also necropoleis and other ritualized settings. Students came up with some excellent story maps, which they presented in the Reality Theatre at the University of Groningen, with the help of Adri Mathlener.

Their final story maps give excellent insights into different ways that time was used in urban contexts, in examples that range from Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Greek mainland, and the Italian peninsula.

To open this collection in a separate window, click here


T. Earley-Spadoni (2017) ‘Spatial history, deep mapping and digital storytelling. Archaeology’s future imagined through an engagement with the Digital Humanities’, Journal of Archaeological Science 30, 95-102.

‘Tales from the Asklepieion of Pergamon’ at the Arts Festival – 17 September 2022

Tales from the Asklepieion

The Arts Festival, on Saturday, 17 September, presented us with a unique opportunity to transform a corner of the University of Groningen into the Asklepieion of Pergamon. The corner was in the Exhibition Hall of the Harmony Building, which houses the Faculty of Arts / Humanities. Ours was one of five projects that interacted with visitors.

Alexandra Katevaini is the genius behind this project. She had been wanting to find a way for the public in general to engage with our project. The festival provided a perfect venue, but we were a bit late in finding out about it, so we had to act fast! While Christina established contacts and did some of the graphic design, Alexandra set about designing the project in 3D space, creating encounters between visitors of the Arts Festival and ancient visitors at the Asklepieion in Pergamon, through projections and story maps. She selected stories that in our Deep Map are linked to a corner of the Asklepieion in the northwest area, between the Theater, the rocky spring and Roman Baths, and the Felsbarre, or rocky ridge where the oldest temples are located.

Deep-map of the Asklepieion – the black square shows the corner that was the area of our focus for the project.
This is the area of the Asklepieion that we zoomed in on in the presentation, with 17 inscriptions and narratives from Aelius Aristides

This corner was the scene of some of Aelius Aristides’ activities, and according to the Altertümer von Pergamon (vol. VIII.3 on the inscriptions of the Asklepieion), at least 17 inscriptions, most belonging to honorific statues, were identified as coming from this area. All of these date to the imperial period, but some of the earlier inscriptions were relocated to this area after the massive extension of the sanctuary in the second century AD.
This corner of the shrine had become a true hot spot in the imperial era! In the Exhibition Hall, it became our focal point.

Alexandra then went to work making short stories via Story Maps of the different individuals – in the end she was able to create 10 stories, including one about this area itself. She then generated QR codes with cryptic titles which we printed on cards and taped to different surfaces in the Exhibition Hall – visitors could look for them like Easter eggs. Here are a few examples:…

Samples of the QR cards with individual stories, from the architecture (blue), inscriptions (green), and literary accounts (purple)

In designing the project, we were hoping to be able to project the plan of this corner onto the floorspace, and scatter the QR-cards in the projected area. But with the means available we were less than impressed by the result. So Plan B went into effect, which was to project a full-scale image from this corner across the wall in the background, with running imagery playing on a large screen behind us. Visitors standing across from us at our table would have had a realistic view of the corner from the shrine, from approximately the very same spot. The QR-cards were then scattered across the Exhibition Hall…

Altogether we were able to tell maybe 30 or 40 people about the project, and most took some time to access some of the stories via the QR codes. Especially considering we had only worked on this for three days ahead of the event, we are very pleased with the result – and consider this as Part I of Tales from the Asklepieion – we plan to add more Tales!

Meanwhile, you can browse the stories so far here…

Story Map collection with the individual stories from the ‘focal point’ in the Asklepieion.

‘Heroes in the Asklepieion’ – workshop for MA class ‘Atelier Living Heritage’ – 25 March 2022

Another opportunity to share the project Deep-mapping the Asklepieion presented itself to us in March, when we were invited to give a lecture for the MA course ‘Atelier Living Heritage’, co-taught by by Dr Margriet Hoogvliet and Prof. Dr Rina Knoeff. Among others, the course deals with new ways of presenting historical research, including the possibilities that digital technologies offer.

We decided to focus on the usage of Story Maps, with a lecture and a workshop, in which we explain what a story map is and how you can use it to communicate spatial narratives (see also Digital Storytelling by ESRI), and then let students try it out with some ready-made data.

The theme – Heroes in the Asklepieion

Our focus was on the honorific monuments in the Asklepieion of Pergamon. Alexandra Katevaini created a base story map, Heroes in the Asklepieion, which briefly presents the Asklepieion, then introduces the inscriptions at the sanctuary, focusing on the honorific decrees for the elite, both local and foreign, and focusing on people with strong ties to Rome. Most of these decrees were inscribed on bases that originally included statues of the person being honored, turning the sanctuary into a kind of ‘Hall of Fame’ that immortalized both the individual dignitaries and the relation between Pergamon and Rome.

Story map ‘Heroes in the Asklepieion’

The assignment for the students was to create a story map of one of the ‘heroes’ that could later be linked to the base ‘Heroes’ story map. This hero was Julius Quadratus Bassus, descendant of the Attalids, elite of Pergamon, and member of the Roma Senate, and honored in the Asklepieion via the inscription IvP III 21.

The mini-workshop – building a story map

start with a story board

We started with a story board, showing students how it is best to plan their story maps in thematic blocks. Once there is an overall structure and flow to the story, then you can start collecting texts, images and other media, especially maps, that will support the main point of each block. Since we only had an hour for our mini-workshop, we prepared texts and images in advance for the students to use, following step-by-step instructions.

First we drew out the story board, and explained how the different sections would become blocks in the story map. Then Christina began to tell the story of Julius Quadratus Bassus, starting with a brief biography, then his family network, a timeline of his activities, then the inscription, and the mapped network that can be drawn out from this inscription. While Christina was explaining these features, Alexandra created a story map on the spot, that students could follow. It was performance art!

After this it was the students’ turn to make their own story maps, following the same steps with the same data. They could try to recreate what Alexandra made, or try different approaches.

Julius Quadratus Bassus – the myth, the inscription, the network

Alexandra’s resulting story map is shown here and is the first in a series of ‘stories’ that we can derive from the inscriptions themselves.

Story map on Julius Quadratus Bassus

To be continued…

This was a great way to start scratching the surface of the thousands of stories that the Asklepieion has to tell. and a good way of communicating it with students.
This was the first time we ‘performed’ a story map, but Alexandra has taught students in a number of other MA courses how to build a story map as part of their course work:

  • MA 2020-21 Power and Cult in the Hellenistic World – story maps were used in lieu of a real excursion to Greece (due to COVID restrictions),
  • MA 2021-2022 Sacred Landscapes in the Post-classical world – story maps were used in support of an excursion assignment ;
  • MA 2022-2023 Urban Timescapes in the Graeco-Roman world – story maps are the final assignment.

But the Julius Quadratus Bassus story is a great kickstart to the series of stories to come…

A word of thanks

We are grateful to Margriet Hoogvliet for giving us this opportunity to share our work with her students. Margriet is also very keen on deep-mapping herself, and has applied some of the concepts in her own projects, which include Broeders 3D, an interactive encounter with the Brethren of the Common Life in Dordrecht, that she developed with Prof. Dr. Sabrina Corbellini and Dr Pieter Boonstra.

Deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon

The current project focuses on the Asklepieion of Pergamon, and mapping the manifold stories through its sacred space. The Asklepieion is perhaps the richest of the three case studies in variety of data, and provides a good way to explore the different possibilities of creating a deep-map.


Deep-mapping can take a variety of forms, but if you really want to apply spatial analyses then a good start is with GIS – despite the drawbacks, misleading representations, or even methodological hypocrisy of using a metrical tool to analyze phenomenological perceptions. Nonetheless, GIS has the capacity to act as a reservoir for a wide variety of data.

Assimilating data in GIS

In deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon, the focus is on how narratives interact with space but also each other, to produce several layers of meaning. This means collecting a variety of spatial data, starting with the topography of the site, but also the inscriptions, and the relevant data in Hieroi Logoi of Aelius Aristides (see next section). This approach, focused on spatial narratives, complements the current archaeological and geophysical fieldwork now being conducted in the area, directed by Ulrich Mania in the context of the DAI Project ‘Transformation of the Pergamon Micro-region’. See also Pirson, F. et al. (2021). Pergamon – Das neue Forschungsprogramm und die Arbeiten in der Kampagne 2019. Archäologischer Anzeiger, 2020/2, 1-245.

With the help of Pim Schievink and Alexandra Katevaini, I began collecting data pertaining to the Asklepieion of Pergamon. Sources are principally the Altertümer von Pergamon XI. Vols 1-5 (1968-2011) Ziegehaus, de Luca, Hoffmann) from the 1958-1969 excavations.

Facilities for reproducing the large plans from the AvP for use in GIS were pretty limited in 2020, but the Geodienst was nonetheless able to georeference the scans, creases and all, to indicate the location of the different structures.

Georeferenced plan of the Asklepieion, showing the outlines of the plan (derived from AvP XI) of the site superimposed over a satellite image

The next step is collecting the data in spreadsheets – I started with the inscriptions from the Asklepieion (compiled by Pim Schievink, from Altertümer von Pergamon VIII. Teil 3 (Habicht 1969)) and the relevant textual passages in Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi – with these I am also looking beyond the Asklepieion for spatial references.

These are then transformed to shapefiles, or layers of information that are imported into a GIS environment – here we use ESRI ArcGIS. The points from Aelius Aristides were converted by the Geodienst team, while Alexandra Katevaini connected the inscriptions to polygons defined based on the map.

This process is described in more detail, with examples, in a story map, created with ArcGIS online: Deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon

We recently presented this at the Hieron Spring 2021 workshop ‘Asking About Asklepios’ (06.05.2021), a Brown Bag session of the Groningen Ancient History Research Collective (19.05.2021) and the Athens Greek Religion Seminar at Swedish Institute at Athens (25.05.2021) – see News and Events.

A shout out to all those who provided comments and suggestions! Your feedback will help move this project forward in significant ways!