My PhD examines the role and reception of Chinese knowledge practices, such as marking time with reference to eclipses and other astronomical events, in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. I also seek to explore how the Jesuit China mission, which was largely responsible for the circulation of Chinese knowledge practices to Europe in the early modern period, shaped the ways in which Europeans understood their place in the world and conceived of Other places and peoples.
The first chapter of my thesis, currently submitted for publication, studies the changing credibility of different genres of historical knowledge—material histories, text-based hermeneutics, and astronomical reconstructions—between the mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries in Europe. The chapter suggests that the widespread "astronomical turn" in European historical scholarship in the early Enlightenment was at least in part the result of an astronomy-centred alignment of interests between the Jesuit missionary Martino Martini (1614-61), the new Manchu regents of China, and secular French philosophes.
Another chapter explores the role of Martini's geographical description of China, the Novus Atlas Sinensis, published in Amsterdam in 1655 by the renowned Dutch East Indies Company cartographer and print-capitalist Joan Blaeu (1596-1673), in shaping "Enlightened" cartographic practices and visual culture. It is concerned with understanding how the Atlas helped to construct an image of China as a wealthy, civilised, cultured, and above all different-but-not-too-different empire, which distinguished it from the New World, which was often characterised by iconographies of cannibalism, savagery, and incivility.
My latest completed chapter studies the social and technological factors that shaped the adoption of gunpowder technology in seventeenth-century China. The chapter explores Martini's account of the Manchu conquest, De Bello Tartarico Historia (1654), which suggests that cavalry perhaps played at least as important a role as firearms in the establishment of the Qing Dynasty.
Currently, I am writing a chapter that links the history of agriculture to the history of astronomy in the context of the Jesuit China mission. Both reformist Chinese literati, such as Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) and later European writers on agriculture, such as François Quesnay (1694-1774) were interested in understanding how the state could harness the power of nature—in all its different, culturally-specific articulations—to build its strength and economic influence. My research looks at how the Jesuits' understanding of the Chinese calendar shaped their perceptions of agriculture in the Middle Kingdom. Read more about this project here!
Portrait of Martino Martini S. J. (1614-61), painted by the Walloon artist Michaelina Wautier in 1654.
Portrait of the Ming era literatus, philosopher, and Christian convert Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), who was heavily involved in reforming the Chinese calendar under the Chongzhen Emperor.
Martini's general map of China from Novus Atlas Sinensis (Amsterdam: Joan Blaeu, 1655)