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Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History Moving to BC

In the first two weeks of February, around 100,000 research volumes will travel 3,000 miles across the country headed for their final destination—Boston College. 

The Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History is anticipated to open at BC in February 2022, according to a University release. The internationally renowned research center, which brings rare books, manuscripts, and unique artwork from East Asia, will be housed in the Creagh Library on Brighton Campus. 

The institute is moving from the University of San Francisco, where it was founded by Rev. Edward Malatesta, S.J., in 1984. Malatesta named the institute after Matteo Ricci—an Italian Jesuit missionary from the 16th century who was the first cultural bridge between the East and the West—according to Rev. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J., director of the Ricci Institute.

“[Ricci] was a missionary, but also created this cultural bridge between … Europe and China,” Ucerler said in an interview with The Heights. “So Father Malatesta decided to give this name … because it’s not just about philosophy or theology. It’s really through Christianity and this encounter of missionaries how East and West met.”

Ucerler said that beyond philosophy and theology, the institute also studies the histories of science, art, and cultural exchanges between Asia and the West from the 16th to early 20th century, and it will serve as a resource to BC’s Asian studies, history, and theology departments.

Professors will bring their classes to exhibits, and students will be able to utilize resources for research projects, Ucerler said. He also said he hopes students will enjoy having physical objects, not just digital resources, available to them.

“One of the things that I have discovered with students is actually seeing the real thing is something else,” he said. “I love digital technology. I use it a great deal, but one thing is to see … artwork or something rare on the screen. Another thing is to see the real thing and even hold it or touch it.”

It is important to study Chinese-Western cultural exchange, according to Ucerler, because it enriches knowledge of the world and the self.

“By looking at someone who has a different experience, a different background, who speaks a different language, and there’s a different cultural experience, not only do you learn something about the wider world, you also learn something about yourself and who you are,” he said.

Ucerler said the institute regularly works with people from around 20 different countries across the world.

“We’re going to bring the world to BC—have people come here who might otherwise not have come here—and so I think that will give both faculty and students an opportunity to interact with more people,” he said. “At the same time, we’re going to bring the work we do as members of BC to the world.”

Diversity, Ucerler said, hinges upon the openness and desire to learn about and appreciate other people and cultures. This is what drives the institute, he said. 

“What the Ricci Institute really loves doing is bringing these different people together,” Ucerler said.

The institute will offer fellowships, which will bring doctoral students and postdoctoral students from all over the world to study at BC, Ucerler said. As a research I university, BC offers the highest level of degree where one can become a nationally and internationally recognized expert in the field.

Ucerler said the primary reason the institute is moving from the University of San Francisco to BC is because USF does not have Ph.D. programs in humanities or social sciences. 

“We’ve been working with these young researchers from all over the world and realize that it’s going to be difficult to really develop this program if you’re not in a place that has those programs,” he said.

If all goes well, Ucerler said the collections will be moved to BC during the first two weeks of February. Ucerler hopes the institute will be available to the BC community as soon as possible.

“I really, really, really want to open the doors and have students, faculty, and other BC members [and] staff come see and perhaps even begin using our collections for their final papers before the end of the academic year,” he said.

Ucerler said he has been amazed at the warm welcome the institute received and the excitement it generated among the BC community. What he is most excited about, however, is expanding the institute’s presence in both the BC community and the world.

“I’m excited about being able to dream big dreams and expand our activities in collaboration with even more people, even more universities, [and] have an even larger outreach across the BC community and across the world,” he said.

Featured Image Courtesy of Rev. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J.

December 12, 2021
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