Where's Woodhouse?

3 August 2020
‘Citizen archiving’ project asks travellers and residents in Greece to identify locations of historic photographs
A project calling on members of the public to shed light on photos taken in Greece by a renowned classicist more than a century ago has yielded more than 600 responses from around the world.
An image of Syntagma Square, in the centre of Athens. Viewers were able to decipher - from the tram-horses and buildings featured in the image - that the photo was likely taken in the first decade of the 20th century.  Credit: NM2007.14.3.

An image of Syntagma Square, in the centre of Athens, taken at the turn of the 20th century. Credit: NM2007.14.3 (Nicholson Collection, Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney). 

William Woodhouse was chair of Greek at the University of Sydney from 1900 and Honorary Curator of the University’s Nicholson Museum from 1903 until his death in 1937. A regular traveller to Greece, he voraciously photographed his explorations of Greek antiquity and excursions through the countryside.

Woodhouse’s prolific photography has resulted in more than 1800 glass plate images of Greece’s archaeological sites, landscapes, villages and people being included in the University’s Nicholson Collection. The Woodhouse Archive Flickr Project began in 2017 to glean more information about these images.

“Woodhouse’s archive is a rich resource, capturing many sites before intensive archaeological excavations commenced and before Greece’s modern industrial development,” said Nicholson Collection curator Candace Richards.

“The collection was donated by Woodhouse’s daughter Liska in the late 1980s. My predecessors immediately realised their significance, but sadly they were archived in the attic and were inaccessible. In 2007 the museum started digitising the collection. Unfortunately, there was little archival information accompanying the glass plate negatives, with only a few scraps of handwritten notes among the images.”

In 2017 Richards thought the most expedient way to flesh out the catalogue was to take it to the public. She uploaded the full archive onto Flickr.

“Australia has a large Greek community and, pre COVID-19, upwards of 80,000 Australians visited Greece each year. The accessibility of the platform also meant that the collection could draw on the international community to help us identify images and catalogue the collection.”

Richards added details about the project to the Flickr site and invited members of the public to offer insights on the photos by adding comments or image tags. So far the Woodhouse Archive Flickr Project has received more than 600 comments pertaining to over 400 images.

“It’s been encouraging to see so much interest,” Richards said. “Comments range from detailed observations made by archaeologists to trainspotters and tourists and to the Greek community sharing knowledge about their villages or families’ experiences growing up in rural Greece.”

German-based Hellenic Studies teacher Alexios Katefidis became involved in the project after a Google search on his hometown of Agrinio. He has identified five of the more obscure images in the collection.

“I immediately recognised the unidentified photos that come from my hometown…but also from many other areas of Greece.” 

Black and white photo of a monk in front of a monastery in Pheneos, Greece. He is dressed in black and has a long beard, wears a crucifex.

Monk at the monastery of Saint George, Pheneos. Credit: NM.2007.20.4, Nicholson Collection, Chau Chak Wing Museum. 

Aside from identifying locations and buildings, members of the public have been able to identify cultural activities photographed by Woodhouse and provide geographical coordinates pertaining to specific images. Some images, like those of the Parthenon, were easily identifiable, says Richards but others are obscure. These include villages that have been drastically changed with development over the past century and buildings like mosques that were dismantled following the Greco-Turkish War and Lausanne Convention in the early 1920s.

“The range of knowledge offered and detailed observations are astonishing,” says Richards. “One contributor was able to identify an image by zooming in on the tiny church resting on top of a hill, barely visible to the casual observer.”

Contributions to the project have been verified with the help of online resources, including Google Street View, and the Greek Ministry of Culture. Richards retraced Woodhouse’s footsteps and obtained more details on his photographic library during a whirlwind visit to Greece in 2017.

The Woodhouse Archive Flickr Project will feature in the Impressions of Greece exhibition at the University’s Chau Chak Wing Museum when it opens to the public on 18 November. The exhibition will include a changing selection of Woodhouse’s glass plate images paired with antiquities from the collection that explore different themes of ancient and modern Greek culture. Visitors to the museum will also be able to continue contributing to the project. 

Jocelyn Prasad

Media and Public Relations Advisor

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