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Rare documents from Ricci and beyond launched on new website

BOSTON (SE): Boston College in the United States of America launched a new website, Beyond Ricci, on August 20, which provides access to books containing historical narratives, maps, correspondence and musical compositions depicting life in China during the era of early east-west exchange, which was initiated by the Jesuits.

Published in five languages, the website can be found at

Authored by Australian Father Jeremy Clarke sj, a press release from Boston College quotes him as saying, “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.”

The project was funded through a grant from the college’s Academic Teaching Advisory Board and the Office of the Provost.

“It was a labour 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,” Father Clarke says.

Among the rare digitised items is 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 the 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 focusses on books from the Jesuitica Collection by or about Jesuit missionaries including Father Matteo Ricci, Father Philippe Couplet and Father Alvaro Semedo, as well as Rome-based Jesuits, Father Christopher Clavius and Father Athanasius Kircher, who made use of the information sent back by the missionaries from China.

The website is written by Father Clarke. He has selected the books and images from the 2,500-volume collection in the Boston College library, all of which were published prior to the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773.

Father Clarke credits Tim Lindgren, Jeanne Po and Cristina Joy, from the Instructional Design and e-Teaching Services, William Donovan and Elizabeth McKelvey, from Digital Services, Bridget Burke from Burns Library, and Kerry Burke, from Media Technology Services, as being the most significant among the many people at the college who contributed to the creation of the website.

The group says that it hopes the site will serve as a model for digital humanities.

“As a rare books library, we are pleased to make our collection available for this project,” Bridget Burke, the associate university librarian for special collections at Boston College, said.

“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,” she continued.

Rita Owens, the executive director for academic technology at Boston College, added, “Beyond Ricci is a great example of how faculty members like Jeremy Clarke are enriching instruction by presenting previously hidden materials to students through the digital humanities.”

She continued, “Thanks to efforts like, Walking Ulysses and MediaKron, students at Boston College now explore humanities in a variety of new and exciting directions, with Boston College continuing to be in the forefront of this new technology.”

Father Clarke is a member of the Australian province of the Society of Jesus. He studied Chinese history at the Australian National University in Canberra under renowned scholar, Geremie Barmé.

He recalled that he first learned about Father Ricci at school, which prompted a life-long interest in his missionary work and the work of his fellow Jesuits in China.

He will spend the autumn 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,” Father Clarke explained.

“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,” he continued.

“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,” the Australian scholar concluded.