For many reasons, Herculaneum has long been considered the poor relation of Pompeii and this is reflected in the relative lack of academic research and resources on the site. This situation has made it difficult for many teachers to find historically accurate and stimulating material on Herculaneum that meets the content requirements and outcomes of the NSW Ancient History syllabus. Herculaneum: diaries of darkness and light, by renowned Italian film maker Marcellino de Baggis, is the first step towards correcting the imbalance and making the workload of teachers a little easier.
The documentary takes the viewer on a visually splendid tour of Herculaneum with a narrative that operates on two different temporal levels: one moment we are in the present and being guided through the streets and buildings of Herculaneum as they are today, then suddenly we are transported back to the 1930s as archival footage reveals the processes of transforming the site into an open-air museum. De Baggis has cleverly used the diaries of eminent Italian archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri as the thread that binds his narrative: we are treated to archival footage of the 1930s excavations as well as a rare interview with 'Don Amedeo' himself in which he reflects on his 40-year career as director of the site.
The visual images are stunning, and show details of streetscapes, shops, houses, baths and many artefacts now housed in the National Archaeological museum in Naples and the Herculaneum storerooms. HSC students should find the DVD easy to follow. Although the audio narrative is in Italian, English sub-titles are well translated and easy to read. Teachers will need to show the DVD at least twice so that students can absorb the densely-packed information in the narrative. The audio-visual format should stimulate memory and facilitate understanding of the complexities of the site. This is a resource that NSW Ancient History teachers will definitely welcome to the classroom.
Louise Zarmati, 2007