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Office of News & Public Affairs

New BC Website of Digitized Rare Books
Explores Jesuit Missionaries in China

historian jeremy clarke, sj, highlights bc's jesuitica collection

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Jeremy Clarke, S.J., an Australian Jesuit and assistant professor of history at BC, has launched Beyond Ricci, www.bc.edu/beyondricci, a searchable website that provides scholars and researchers access to books containing historical narratives, maps, correspondence and musical compositions in five languages that depict life in China in early modern history and the East-West exchanges initiated by the early Jesuit missionaries.  

“This website takes knowledge and information that is rare and beautiful and puts it into the academic domain, providing an interdisciplinary resource for scholars and students of disciplines ranging from history and geography, to Latin and Chinese,” said Fr. Clarke, whose project was funded through a grant from BC's Academic Teaching Advisory Board and the Office of the Provost. “It was a labor of love, and an act of homage to my Jesuit brothers and their Chinese counterparts whose remarkable scholarship is preserved in these rare books that will now be available to visitors from Chestnut Hill to Canberra, San Francisco to Shanghai.”

Among the many notable digitized items from the rare book collection are a 1735 translation of a French encyclopedia of China; an extensively detailed 18th century atlas; melody lines from the Chinese Imperial Court that were transcribed by Jesuits in the mid-18th century; and a translation of Confucian texts by the Jesuit missionaries that represented the first introduction of Confucius to the Western world.   

The website focuses on books from the Jesuitica Collection by or about Jesuit missionaries including Matteo Ricci, Philippe Couplet and Alvaro Semedo, as well as Roman-based Jesuits Christopher Clavius and Athanasius Kircher, who made use of the information sent back by the missionaries in China.  It was written by Fr. Clarke, who selected the books and images from the library’s collection of 2,500 volumes, all of which were published prior to the order’s suppression in 1773.

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Among the many BC people involved in the project, Fr. Clarke credits (l-r) Tim Lindgren, Jeanne Po and Cristina Joy of Instructional Design and eTeaching Services. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)


Among the many people involved in the project throughout Boston College, Fr. Clarke credits Tim Lindgren, Jeanne Po and Cristina Joy of Instructional Design and eTeaching Services, William Donovan and Elizabeth McKelvey from Digital Services, Bridget Burke from Burns Library, and Kerry Burke from Media Technology Services with helping to produce the website, which they hope will serve as a model for digital humanities.

“As a rare books library, we are pleased to make our collection available for this project,” said Bridget Burke, associate university librarian for special collections at BC.  “We have the largest Jesuitica collection in the United States, so collaborating on digital humanities projects gives us an opportunity to do what no other library can do.”  

Added Rita Owens, executive director for academic technology, "Beyond Ricci is a great example of how faculty like Jeremy Clarke are enriching instruction by presenting previously hidden materials to students through the digital humanities. Thanks to efforts like Beyond Ricci, Walking Ulysses and MediaKron, students at Boston College now explore humanities in a variety of new and exciting directions, with BC continuing to be in the forefront of this new technology.”

A member of the Australian Province of Jesuits, Fr. Clarke, who studied Chinese history at the Australian National University under renowned scholar Geremie Barmé, said he first learned about Matteo Ricci at his Jesuit high school, which prompted a life-long interest in his missionary work and the work of his fellow Jesuits in China.  After launching the website, he will spend the fall semester doing research in Beijing. 

“This project takes rare books from a shelf in Burns Library and makes them accessible to a wide audience of visitors with either scholarly or casual interest in Chinese history,” said Fr. Clarke.  “Professors of Asian history—as well as early modern history in general—can now give assignments to students that will help them to better understand this time period and the significance of the East-West cultural exchange. I am proud of this site and hope that it will help to enhance understanding of Chinese history and the role the Jesuit missionaries played in establishing these important ties to the East.”

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--Jack Dunn is director of the Office of News & Public Affairs.