Join the Conversation about the Special Exhibition, Urban Biographies!


On August 24 the Kelsey Museum’s latest special exhibition, Urban Biographies, Ancient and Modern, opened to the public. It will be on display until January 8, 2019. An online version of the exhibition will remain available on the Kelsey website even after the museum show closes. 

The exhibition features Kelsey-sponsored archaeological research at Gabii in Italy, Olynthos in Greece, and Notion in Turkey and compares these ancient cities with modern Detroit. Comments on both the exhibition and the website are very welcome.

What does the concept of an “urban biography” mean to you? What do you think we can learn by comparing past and present? What are some of the details of the biography of your hometown, or of another city you know well? Please leave a comment in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of this page.

11 thoughts on “Join the Conversation about the Special Exhibition, Urban Biographies!

  1. Suzanne Davis 08/31/2018 / 9:25 am

    My favorite part of the exhibition is the video “Notion: A Journey Through Time,” which (in our gallery here at the Kelsey) is projected onto a 3D model of the landscape (but you can also watch it on the website!). My Kelsey Museum coworker Carrie Roberts and I both know the geography of the site pretty well, but we still spent a good 15 minutes staring this display today, transfixed. It is such a nice visual aid for seeing how the local landscape has changed over time and what the team’s plans for the site’s future are.

  2. J. Troy Samuels 09/10/2018 / 8:52 am

    The archaeological fieldwork being carried out by the Kelsey museum at the moment is pretty remarkable, and it was really quite lovely to see all our projects highlighted in the same space in a manner that promotes the dialogue we have within our academic community in a broader, public forum. I never really thought I would get to see things I excavated (even in 3-d printed form) on display in our museum. I also want to echo Susanne’s comments that the “Notion: A Journey Through Time” video was really awesome! I want one for Gabii.

    The addition of the Detroit material is also so important, especially if we take the initiative and use this type of comparison to bring the questions our excavation work raises to bear in our local community. This is a fantastic start and I would love to see it leading to more Detroit-facing public scholarship on the part of our museum and excavation teams.

    • J. Troy Samuels 09/10/2018 / 8:54 am

      Apologies to Suzanne for the name misspelling!

  3. Doug White 09/11/2018 / 2:03 pm

    I was on the curator tour of the exhibit two days ago. The weaving together of personal and on-site perspectives in the videos, the elucidation of old and new investigative strategies and technologies, and the thought-provoking physical displays is all very informative and effective. I agree that the video projection on a 3D landscape model, “Notion: A Journey Throughout Time,” is transfixing! The Detroit interviews are quite engaging and also thought-provoking, triggering both speculations as to what the residents of the ancient cities would have to say, as well as thoughts about my own life experiences in urban environments. Finally, I want to say that in 1969 I participated as a grad student in a UM survey of pre-Hispanic settlement patterns in the Ixtapalapa region of the Valley of Mexico, so I found the Notion exhibit, which goes into the use of surface surveys, of special interest. Thanks to all who put this wonderful exhibit together! It’s also great to have it online.

  4. Greg T 09/26/2018 / 3:24 pm

    Prof Pirson gave a very thought-provoking opening lecture last night. Thinking about how the ecology of the city and micro-regional effects have an influence on the urban biographies of these centers changes my perspective a bit. Although each of the cities in the exhibition, and Pergamon, have experienced expansion and contraction they all seem to have very diverse micro-regions and likely had differing levels of support and collaboration from their hinterlands. Thinking about these cities as spaces vs communities lets us draw lines, such as the city walls of the ancient cities, that may have been more more technical rather than realistic divisions between the people living in the local micro-regions and those in the intramural area. It makes me think about the Kelsey hosting this exhibit in Ann Arbor, with a major focus on Detroit, and what the residents of Elaia or Colophon or Rome or Pella or other nearby communities thought about the direction of the ancient sites in this show, if they thought about them at all.

    Thanks to the curators, exhibition staff, and project participants, for creating such a stimulating exhibition!

  5. Christina D 10/11/2018 / 4:42 pm

    As an archaeology graduate student who works at Notion, I am also glad to see that several of our field projects are highlighted in this exhibition and put in dialogue with one another. I agree with Troy that bringing Detroit into the conversation is especially important, and I hope that we continue to make these local, public connections.

    A larger theme that I thought about after seeing the exhibition and watching the interviews with the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm community was how each facet of the exhibition focuses on process: both in the sense of the process of archaeological fieldwork and the process of urban development. It is easy for me as a student to focus on a certain moment of a city’s past and not think about all of the work and planning that it took to produce that particular moment. At Notion, it is also easy for me to be so focused on picking up numerous ceramic sherds in the heat of the summer and not think about the people who would have used those ceramics! But watching the interviews with the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm community made me think about the human actions that led to that certain moment in a city’s past and has reminded me not to forget about human agency in my own research. Overall, the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm’s work is very inspiring, and I wish them all the best!

    Thank you to everyone who made this exhibition possible!

  6. Christopher Ratté 11/07/2018 / 9:13 am

    Comments on notecards deposited in comment box in gallery (collected on November 1, 2018):

    Urban Biographies is an excellent way to show how past and present of cities, and consequently of people, are connected.

    3D model of Notion really great.

    Like the look, too much to read.

    Guided tour enjoyable and informative. Thank you.

    Great show!! I have been teaching poems about cities. So very relevant!

    The model of Notion is spell-binding, and the interesting technology in the exhibition spaces adds to the diversity of approaches and appeals to a wider range of visitors.

    Love the maps!

    Love the 3D model. Do it for Troy!

    Love the 3D model of Notion.

    Thank you.

    Super cool!!!

    The fabrication work on the models is stellar.

  7. cjratte 11/28/2018 / 12:35 pm

    Comments on notecards deposited in comment box in gallery (collected on November 28, 2018):

    Urban Biographies is an intriguing and informative approach (I’ve attended some of the lectures on the exhibition as well as a curator’s tour). This approach raises questions which might well be asked about any settlement site.

    This is a real gem in our country. The guides are incredible too. I want to go on a dig!
    Darin Eich, Madison, WI

  8. onesetvision 01/09/2019 / 1:03 am

    I appreciated what we did here. I enjoyed every little bit some of it. I am always trying to find informative information this way. Thanks for sharing around.

  9. cjratte 01/29/2019 / 10:58 am

    More comments on notecards deposited in comment box in gallery (collected after closing of show on January 6):

    We can design the future only by looking at the past. I am excited about how Detroit is going to change in the near future.

    Topographic 3D map of Notion, Turkey really helps visualize — awesome exhibit!

    Why would I want to see dirt in a museum? I can just go outside. Also, more mummies next time.

    I really enjoyed my experience here! Super interesting things to look at and learn about. Great work!

    Perfect example of global corps polluting and pulling out of areas — people depend on “AID” — city rots — null accountability.

    By comparing past and present we can measure the impact that both humans and nature have made on the earth. “Urban Biographies” seem to me like meaningful ways to capture the history of cities and the ways they evolve along with their inhabitants. This is a really interesting exhibition.

  10. cjratte 01/29/2019 / 11:04 am

    Warm thanks to all of you who visited the exhibition and took the time to post a comment to this blog. Although the exhibition is no longer on view in the museum, the online version will remain accessible (, and we welcome your continued interest and participation.

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