The Cartographic Undertaking of the French Jesuits in China during the Early 18th Century: Shaped by Interactions with Qing China and Europe.
This dissertation takes a fresh approach to the study of the exchange in scientific knowledge between Europe and continental East Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries, with a particular interest in cartographic practice. The mapping of territories controlled by the Great Qing, initiated at the behest of the Kangxi emperor (r. 1661-1722) and executed by teams of surveyors consisting of Qing officials and European missionaries, sets the stage and forms the backbone of this study.
This unprecedented mapping project, the largest the world had ever seen at the time, is revisited in three major steps. First, I illustrate how a new Qing cartographic practice was established, the direct result of a converging of interests between the Kangxi emperor, the Jesuit order and the French Académie des sciences. Next, the unique and collaborative character of the mapping project is emphasized, with attention to the wide variety of individuals and institutions involved in the land surveys that took place between 1708 and 1718. In a last step, I explore the subsequent circulation of printed maps and atlases, shaped by individual connections and spanning the entire Eurasian continent.
In all, I aim to reach a deeper understanding of how the circulation of cartographic knowledge and practices occurred between and within Europe and continental East Asia at the turn of the 18th century. This is done by tracing the trajectories of two kinds of material objects: surveying instruments and maps. By closely following the process of their many adaptations, I reassemble the constantly changing web of social relations that emanates from studying these trajectories. As a result, I argue, an improved cartography of cross-cultural circulation emerges, one that reveals unstudied patterns and actors while emphasizing their basic connectedness.
This approach allows me to nuance several of the dichotomies that have pervaded the literature for decades: traditional versus scientific practice, global versus local networks, circulation versus production of knowledge, and Chinese versus European elements. As such, a fresh perspective emerges that presents new possibilities for studying cross-cultural scientific exchanges in history.