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A Cultural Treasure Hunt

Two Classes Use Text And Ingenuity To Locate Pagodas

Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013

Updated: Saturday, December 21, 2013 09:12

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Samantha Costanzo / Heights Editor


"From Sun Yat-sen to the Beijing Olympics,” a class on Chinese history taught by Rev. Jeremy Clarke, S.J., hardly expected to be sent on a treasure hunt that would have them virtually crisscrossing the globe.

But in the first five weeks of being back at school, they and the students in Sheila Gallagher’s Drawing Connections advanced drawing course have been wrapped up in a historical mystery that they are already close to solving.

“That’s the beauty of taking professors who have been given great reviews and have a real strong handprint on campus,” said Kaitlyn McGillycuddy, A&S ’14.

RELATED: Treasure Hunt Ends In Boston

In the early 20th century, at a Chinese orphanage in what is now Shanghai, a Jesuit named Aloysius Beck taught woodcarving to a group of young boys. The children carved 84 intricate statues of pagodas located throughout China and Korea. Many of the structures themselves have been destroyed, leaving the carvings as the only remaining way to see them. But the carvings, too, disappeared in 1915, after they traveled from China to the Chicago World’s Fair.

After almost 100 years, a history class at Boston College has finally located them. Clarke, a scholar of Chinese history, visited the Tushanwan Museum during a seminar over the summer. Located on the site of the former orphanage, it held what little information about the pagodas that was to be had at the time.

“I was told by the people at the museum that they didn’t know where they’d ended up,” Clarke said.

He and Gallagher developed the project for their respective courses. Bapst Art Librarian Adeane Bregman created a resource guide for students to use during the project and spoke to them about how to conduct their research effectively. The area where the orphanage was located, Bregman said, has multiple spellings of its name. Knowing what those are and how to search for them individually proved helpful for the students when conducting their research. The professors hope to learn more about what research methods and ways of learning work best for students.

“There’s the immediate task of using this media and seeing how they use it,” Clarke said. “Is this a good learning style? Did it work? What are they learning in this process?”

Gallagher’s class, which is divided into small groups of four students each, will create artistic depictions of the process of finding the pagodas. Clarke’s class, which is working together as a larger group, will write research papers on the same topic.

“We talked a little bit about all the wrong areas we went, all the things we looked for that ended up giving us no information and looking at that,” said Kristen Mabie, a student in Gallagher’s Drawing Connections class and A&S ’17. “We looked at a lot of artists who did mapping work of journeys.”

Students in both classes have used a variety of sources, from social media and conversations with people familiar with the carvings, to articles in print and online.

“You put 25 highly intelligent people who know how to use the Internet and these databases, and they’re going to find what they want to find,” Meghan Daly, a student in Clarke’s history class and A&S ’14, said. “They might not find the whole picture, but they found a piece of the puzzle which happens to go to another person’s piece, which creates a clearer picture.”

Certain documents, however, were only available in books or articles published in journals to which BC does not have access. Bregman, who began researching the pagodas over the summer using print materials only, said that she was impressed at how far she could get without resorting to Google.

“There’s just no one way,” Bregman said. “It made me feel good that libraries and what we provide are not dead yet … We can still help people to work smarter and more efficiently.”

Bregman cross-checked the information she found in her printed sources and found that the same information was either already online or accessible through online sources.

Mabie had found most of her information simply through Google, but hit a wall when she could not access a particular article and mentioned the fact to Bregman when she stopped by Bregman’s office.

The answer was not in Google or on a website, but rather, in a publication to which BC does not have access.

“Have you heard of inter-library loans?” Bregman asked her. Mabie hadn’t, but as it turned out the only way to access her key article was by borrowing it from another library, which any student can do through BC’s online library resources.

Many students, however, say they have relied mostly on online resources in yet another sign that research has evolved in more ways than one over the years.

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