This is Wenlu Wang, and over the coming three month, I will be reporting from Paris as a junior member of the Tokyo branch of the Global History Collaborative consortium. GHC consortium is based on five academic institutions: The University of Tokyo, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris), Princeton University (Princeton), Humbolt University (Berlin), Freie Universität (Berlin) and its objective is to establish an international network of research and education concerning a new history of the world. From this late April to late July, I am staying at EHESS, studying under the supervision of Professor Antonella Romano.
Having been a junior member of GHC for more than two years, I have participated in various workshops and symposia organized by GHC in Tokyo. I had the chance to meet several of the board members of EHESS branch before, which made the earlier communication of my study overseas and my settling down here in Paris rather smooth.
I will report my first month of stay from the following aspects, 1) seminars, 2) personal meetings, 3) research in archives and libraries and 4) daily life in Paris, and before jumping into that, I will briefly introduce my current research project and my goals of the three months studying in Paris.
I am on my third year of doctoral studies at the University of Tokyo, with the program of Asian thoughts and cultures. My research interests include the history of Christianity in China and Japan, the intercultural communications between Europe and East Asia, and book circulation in East Asia. It was not very easy to find a dissertation topic that connects all the interests mentioned above but I finally landed on the current project which is to study how Christianity doctrine was introduced into China during the 16th and the 17th centuries through Chinese catholic catechisms translated from European languages. There were and still are many prominent scholars in France working specifically on this topic, and not to mention more on Catholic mission overseas in general. My goal here is to brush up my methodological approach, chapter structure to further facilitate my writing and I aim to achieve this both by attending seminars and workshops and by personal meetings with scholars working on related topics. For more information on my ongoing research, please refer to the page that the Centre Alexandre-Koyré of EHESS has kindly created for me. http://koyre.ehess.fr/index.php?2746
Seminars at EHESS are usually monthly or happen once every other week, but they usually last longer, ranging from two to four hours, compare to classes and seminars in Japan. This month, I sat in four different seminars: 1) Saviors et Productions du Monde au XVIe Sièle, Lieux, Acteur, Échelles, organized by Professor Romano 2) Sciences et savoirs de l'Asie orientale dans la mondialisation, by Prof. Catherine Jami, etc. 3) Missions religieuses modernes, by Pierre-Antoine Fabre, etc. and 4) Savoirs, institutions, économies: histoires connectées et dynamiques globales, by Alessandro Stanziani, etc. Under the theme, every seminar has its own specific topic, for example, the last one is on global history and in the most recent gathering of this seminar, two scholars gave presentations on methods and problems in studying history of logic in the global context. Every two-hour long seminar generally consists of one-hour long presentation and free discussion followed that.
I have to admit that my level of French has limited the information I can receive from these seminars, however, I found it useful to just get to know what are the topics that scholars in France are interested now and try to ponder a little while about the reason. And from the reading materials and PowerPoint files, as well as books circulated, I still get quite a lot information. Sometimes, guest speakers will kindly switch to English so I can follow the talk and participate in the discussion.
One specific observation I made after sitting in several seminars is that, seminars here are platforms for scholars to discuss the most recent and advanced research with participants coming from all kinds of disciplines and fields, and usually, the senior researchers sitting in seminars outnumber students. The inter-disciplinary environment give rise to interesting talks and fascinating discussions.
Besides getting familiar with the academic environment in France, another reason I found participating in these seminars helpful is that I get to meet people at these occasions, some of whom I may always wanted to write to but did not for lacking the courage. Once we have met in person or have been introduced by other colleagues, it becomes much easier for me to write to and make follow-up meeting appointments.
Apart from EHESS seminars, I also went to a symposium (on Medieval Philosophy) held in Collège de France and a seminar (on urbanization and megalopolis) organized by Fondation France-Japon. I highly recommend anyone coming to Paris to sit in lectures of Collège de France, because they are not only given by the prominent and leading scholar in the field thus very stimulating, but at the same time, also very accessible in content and open in environment, resonating the college’s “Docet Omnia (educate all)” motto. Collège de France also put part of their talks online (some with English versions) so people outside Paris can also have access to.
2) Personal Meetings
My supervisor here is Professor Antonella Romano. It is very kind of her to arrange weekly working meetings for me and so far, we have had four meetings, each last for at least 1.5 hours. In the first two meetings, she guided me through important libraries I should visit and colleagues I should meet and talk. I had some ideas before came here and she provided more information. In the third and fourth meeting, we were talking more specifically on my current research. Since I will be attending the summer school co-organized by the five GHC institutes, we focused on the synopsis paper I submitted and the five minutes long presentation I have to deliver. In these two sessions, we discussed questions like how to treat books as sources (materialist aspects are of great importance), and how to connect texts with social contexts. She also brought to my attention the risks to compare two texts without considering the totally different social contexts. The discussions are very useful and important for me to rethink the framework and certain details of my dissertation.
Professor Romano also encourages me to meet and talk with colleagues working on different topics however would provide insights on my research either in terms of methodology or contents. In this month, I had personal meeting with Professor Ines Županov, Professor Sabina Pavone, and also talked with Professor Michela Bussotti and Professor Alain Arrault, when they invited me to dinner. Prof. Županov works on Jesuit activities in India and deals with Jesuit writings in Tamil language in her research. Her approach of how to look at these local texts is of great value to me. Prof. Panove started her research on Jesuits’ activities in 19th century Russia at first but is now looking at the Society’s activity globally, stretching to regions include Asia and Latin America. She especially provided me with much information on Italian scholars and their researches. This is really important because scholars working on Catholic missions come from a very diversified national and language background and if he or she doesn’t publish in English, it is usually hard for people outside the specific academia to notice. Prof. Bussotti and Prof. Arrault are both sinologists, working on book history and local religions respectively. They provided me with information on how to consult Chinese collections in various libraries. In the following two weeks, I have few more meetings of this kind scheduled and I will write about them in the next report.
I believe all of us do a lot of readings and prepare all kinds questions beforehand for meetings of this kind. I found one more thing really convenient to facilitate discussion, which is to prepare a one or two pages long synopsis of ongoing research, ideally include everything from bigger question, specific question, argument/hypothesis, histography, sources, tentative chapters, etc. I see a lot of the problems in the outline I take to the meetings every time, but at least every newer version improved a bit compared to the last one.
3) Research in Archives and Libraries
The main sources for my research are Chinese texts produced by missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Since Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) have already digitalized most of them and consulting the original takes more time, I spent my first few weeks checking important literature of my field that are written in French, English or other languages, which are generally harder to access in Japan. BnF is very user-friendly. With a valid student (doctoral) card or any other ID indicating researcher identity, one can access to the research libraries, where reserving seats and documents (up to five) in advance is possible. However, documents reservation in the general site for printed works (François-Mitterrand) and site for manuscript (Richelieu) need to be made from different systems, which took me a while to figure out.
Other research libraries I am working at this past month include the Centre Sèvres for the Jesuits faculties in Paris and library of École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO). Centre Sèvres has a rich collection of literature on Jesuit studies and EFEO is rich in works on Asian studies. I also visited Bibliothèque universitaire des langues et civilisations (BULAC) and sometimes the library of Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme (FMSH), which located in the same building of EHESS. One good thing about EFEO, BULAC, and FMSH is that as a doctoral student registered at EHESS, I can check out book and this allow me more time to read as well as make photocopy or scan. I plan to visit several other research libraries next month and will include the information in the following report.
Two very useful online system to check documents in France is the general catalogue of BnF and sudoc (sudoc.abes.fr). Sudoc is a French collective catalogue that includes collections of all the universities and research institutions. For each specific document, by clicking “where to find the document”, one can see all the libraries that has the document and can choose from them the most convenient site to consult or check out.
Another thing about French libraries is that some of them charge for a certain amount of fee. BnF charges 35 euros for a year pass and Centre Sèvres charges 25 euros for a month.
4) Daily Life in Paris
May is a holiday season in France with five national holidays in a month. In the first half of the month, school and all the libraries were closed for nearly half of the days in a week and all the things I wrote before actually have taken place mostly in the latter half of the month. It was a very busy (half) month indeed.
Getting around Paris is easier and faster compared to Tokyo basically because it is smaller and more compact. Travelling from one corner of the city to the other takes no more than one hour. With a monthly pass or weekly pass transportation card, what they call Navigo here, one can unlimitedly use all kinds of public transportation, include metro, bus, tramway and trains(RER).
Long daytime is also a luxury here in this season. Sunrises are at around 6 and sunsets around 9:30 in the evening. Even people like us who work inside libraries for almost a whole day can still enjoy some sunshine after 6 or 7p.m. and there is no need to worry about walking alone even after 9 p.m. I usually take Sunday off to meet with friends or simply take a walk or do some leisure reading in one of the beautiful public parks in Paris and so far, my favorite is no doubt Jardin du Luxembourg. Actually, I finished part of this report in a Sunday afternoon right here. Museums open on Sundays and I will write more about them in the following reports.
Photo at Jardin du Luxembourg
Part of the Program of the Symposium held in Collège de France