Daryl Ireland and Eugenio Menegon’s visit to the L’Orientale University of Naples
Every year Boston University (BU) and the L’Orientale University of Naples (UNO) strengthen their partnership through the Faculty Exchange program. This year, Dr. Daryl Ireland, Associate Director of the CGCM, and Dr. Eugenio Menegon, Associate Professor of History at BU and a CGCM affiliate, went on a ten-day visit to Naples as part of the program.
Dr. Ireland and Dr. Menegon spent time exploring the Collegio d’Cinesi—the first school in Europe to teach Chinese. The archives, which now belong to UNO, hold rich resources. For much of the eighteenth century, Christianity was prohibited in China. Christians, therefore, came to Italy to be trained as priests and then returned home. Their letters back to their professors are an extraordinary window into what was happening in China at a time when Westerners were almost entirely absent. They also provide an amazingly rich description of the family, social, and economic networks that sustained fugitive priests.
One of the urgent issues that the UNO faculty were concerned about was the state of the archive – poor preservation had resulted in acidic paper being interspersed among the 300-year-old letters. The result? Items were crumbling. One of the reasons for Daryl Ireland and Eugenio Menegon’s visit was for the UNO administration to hear from outsiders that the collection was rare and valuable. During a dinner with the Rector (president) of the University, they explained why those materials were important for understanding early modern Sino-Western relations. As a result, the University decided to set aside €40,000 to begin digitizing the archive.
Their visit also strengthened the partnership between BU and UNO. Last year, BU had five UNO students do a remote internship on BU’s NEH-award-winning project: “The China Historical Christian Database.” This visit had produced 10 more student interns for 2022, as well as lots of energy and excitement for the database itself after Dr. Ireland had presented it at a public lecture titled, “The Future of Sino-Western Relations is in its Past.”
In as much as both institutions gained through the visit – digitizing an archive and 1,500 intern hours – Ireland and Menegon’s academic exchange with scholars in Italy was quite invigorating too. Everyone involved saw how the work at BU on the China Historical Christian Database could enrich their work, their ideas, and their questions.