Feeling Social

Photograph of students at a mailbox

Photograph of students at a mailbox, Newton College of the Sacred Heart records, BC.1988.031, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

It’s summertime. We’re getting together with friends around the backyard grill or nearest swimming hole. This got the archives staff thinking; now that so many of our interactions are virtual rather than analog, face-to-face, or physically represented, what have we gained and what have we lost? Addressing this question was the impetus for Being Social Before Social Media, a Burns Library exhibit looking back at how people dated, networked, partied, and shared their travels before smart phones, apps, or even (gasp) the Internet.


Photograph of students at a formal dance,

Photograph of students at a formal dance, Newton College of the Sacred Heart records, BC.1988.031, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

In order to select materials for the exhibit, we thought about how we use our social media accounts and themes emerged. Some platforms try to do everything (Facebook, we’re looking at you); however, we found that in many cases what was once a single traditional function is now possible through multiple apps. Want to compile things you love and share them with others? Traditional scrapbooking with scissors and paste has been replaced by posting on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest, snapping a digital photo and sharing  on Instagram…the list goes on.

Social media is also used to network; conduct business; create a profile or online persona; meet a mate or find friends; play games; share adventures; journal our daily thoughts; share photos; raise funds; and even (more nefariously) vent a grudge or impersonate someone else. All these activities were done very differently in the past. Since the Burns Library collects the papers of artists, authors, scholars, senators, and students, there are many examples from the pre-digital era. Author Bernard Shaw took selfies (well, almost); journalist Katherine Conway picked up souvenir photographs of sites in North Africa to show mom where she’d been; Boston College librarian Helen Landreth traded recipe cards with friends and family (jello salad anyone?); and a young future-president enrolled in the Charitable Irish Society of Boston to make some good connections. We had so much fun discovering these items and more! Come and visit us this summer to cool off and see how we used to be social.

Photograph of writer and activist Mary Boyle O’Reilly on a camel

Photograph of writer and activist Mary Boyle O’Reilly on a camel, Mary Boyle O’Reilly papers, MS.2003.045, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

  • Lynn Moulton, Burns Library Processing Archivist
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The Vietnam War at the Burns Library: The Tip O’Neill Congressional Archives (Part Two)

Informal pose of Thomas P_ ONeill seated

Tip O’Neill in 1972. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 36, Folder 2.

In Part One I looked at the change of heart Congressman Tip O’Neill experienced in 1967 regarding the Vietnam War. Formerly a supporter of the Executive branch’s military policy, O’Neill, encouraged by a stream of constituents’ anti-war letters, shifted to an oppositional stance focused on ending America’s involvement in Southeast Asia. Even after evolving on the issue to align with the majority of his voters, O’Neill continued to receive correspondence from the public as further news from Vietnam influenced public opinion.

The appearance of atrocity reports, particularly the My Lai massacre, was a major turning point in the public’s perception of the war. O’Neill’s Congressional form letter to correspondents writing about the My Lai incident strikes a surprisingly heartfelt tone: “I am afraid we have grown so accustomed to war and its atrocities that we may have become immune to the horror that this represents. If this is not an isolated incident, and there is a great deal of talk that it is not, then we must really worry about our ability to convey to our troops, and our children, a greater sense of morality and a code of ethics.” That “great deal of talk” regarding other atrocities led to the 1970 National Veteran’s Inquiry into US War Crimes. The Citizen’s Commission of Inquiry, which organized the National Veteran’s Inquiry, held 13 hearings in various cities, collecting testimony from eyewitnesses to purported war atrocities, and giving the public a record of the (alleged) crimes being committed, ostensibly, on their behalf.

Battle Hymn

The promotional record single for “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley,” mailed by Plantation Records to Tip O’Neill. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 299, Folder 4.

My Lai itself was indefensible, but the trial of Lt. William Calley, and his sentence to life imprisonment for the murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians, drew sharp criticism. The bulk of the letters O’Neill received regarding Lt. Calley asks for clemency, with some believing he had been pre-judged by the media. “If I still had my uniform I would take it to Washington and throw it in someone’s face,” writes John Terranova. “We let the newspapers print words like massacre, vicious, brutal, murder and so many other things and then they tie it all up to this kid Calley.” Even some apparent “doves,” while expressing opposition to the war itself, took umbrage with the judicial decision, placing blame for the massacre on the war itself: “They are sending immature and ill-trained boys over there,” writes Joan M. Crochet, “teaching and ordering them to kill and then charging them with murder… Who is being charged with murder when the bombing (ordered by the President) kills civilians?” A standout in the archive’s William Calley folder is a green vinyl record, a promotional copy of a song titled “The Battle Hymn of Lieutenant Calley.” Sympathetic to Calley, it was published and mailed directly to Tip O’Neill by country music label Plantation records. Continue reading

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Some Other World: the Yeats Family and the Occult


Embroidery by Lily Yeats and Brigid O’Brien for Cuala Industries. Box 19, Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The moment I got there I felt in touch with some other world — a most pleasant feeling, almost an exalted feeling; but I could get no quiet, and so saw nothing. This feeling remained with me all the time, and all the time of the drive home, and till I went to bed …

During the recent reprocessing of the Boston College collection of the Yeats family papers, I became acquainted with a little known side of this family of artists. Lily Yeats, an embroiderer, had an abiding interest in the supernatural, which she shared with her oldest brother, writer W. B. His fascination with the occult began in the 1880s, when he joined Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and these philosophies influenced his writing. Lily experienced visions and psychic dreams her entire life, and the siblings often consulted each other over portents and visions.

A fascinating and faintly mysterious story emerges from a series of Lily’s letters in our collection.

In July of 1914, Lily experienced one of her most intense visions after visiting Derrynane House in Glencullen, Ireland. She had a strange feeling at the property, and, when she went to sleep that night, dreamed of the house. She saw “a tall woman in the dress of … the forties or early fifties” walking with a younger man. Lily went “out of my own mind and into hers; I saw with her mind and felt with it.” The woman was thinking sadly of her youth and a man she had once loved in France: “I saw her lover — young man, thickset, very sallow, fine head, rather big; I thought he was a Pole or a Frenchman, and a musician or artist […] I saw him ill on a sofa — a lingering illness, slow consumption perhaps. I knew they had lived together, and knew no one knew.” She then described seeing the lover’s funeral.


Photo of bust of Mrs. Fitzsimon in Glencullen House taken by the Campbells for me” is written by Lily Yeats on the reverse of this photograph. Box 8, Folder 19, Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The next day she wrote to the current residents of the house, Joseph and Nancy Campbell, to ask if they knew who lived there previously and if there was any connection to France. She mentioned her vision, but included little detail, in order to get unbiased information. Mrs. Campbell replied, “I am so thrilled about the vision. Mr. Fitzsimon [her landlord] was up a few days ago, and I asked him about France. Apparently his grandmother (O’Connell’s daughter) was a great friend of a Comte de (I couldn’t quite catch the name) who was often staying here, and thought he was the rightful heir to the French throne, the head of the Bourbons. Would that fit in?” Daniel O’Connell was an Irish lawyer and politician who worked for home rule in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Campbells later discovered a volume of poetry written by the woman in question, Ellen Fitzsimon, and identified a poem they thought referenced the events in the vision. (Read the poem they likely meant, entitled “Lines addressed to E. F. T.”, and decide for yourself.) They also sent along a photograph of a bust depicting Ellen Fitzsimon.

yeats to yeats

Letter from W. B. Yeats to Lily Yeats, undated. Box 8, Folder 18, Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Next, Lily consulted W. B., who conducted some research into the matter. In an undated letter, he wrote, “I have been looking into a life of O’Connell. A daughter of his ‘a few’ years after his wife’s death (1835) became melancholy because of some ‘sin’. There are two very moving letters by O’Connell to her urging her to submit to the directions of her confessor, and speaking of salvation and repentance.” The letters in question, written in the summer of 1839, appear in The Correspondence of Daniel O’Connell, but are attributed as being addressed to a different daughter.

Later, Lily sent her account to friend and literary scholar Oliver Elton. He found it fascinating and concluded that “if the professionals (Soc[iety for] Psych[ical] Res[earch, an organization based in London that investigated supernatural phenomenon]) went into it, they would worry at it and ask more questions – but the only most obvious one (to which you would answer ‘No’ at once) is whether you had had any inkling of the story of the place and persons before. You clearly hadn’t.” He typed up a copy of her handwritten account and sent the typewritten version back; it appears with her correspondence in our collection. At the bottom of the account, Lily added a brief addendum: “I have heard since that Mrs. Fitzsimmons [sp.] was engaged over in France to a man[,] a Count who considered himself the head of the Bourbons.” She does not provide a source for this information, or the name of the count in question.

lily note

Note by Lily Yeats on the bottom of the account of her vision, August 28, 1916. Boston College collection of Yeats family papers, MS.1986.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

What do you think? Was Lily’s vision real? Did Ellen Fitzsimon really have a French lover and was he really an heir to the House of Bourbon? Do “Lines Addressed to E. F. T” or any of Ellen’s other poems contain clues?

You can read about the O’Connell family (and see portraits of Daniel O’Connell’s daughters, including one of Ellen when she was young and one around the age she would have been in the vision) and the vision-provoking house on the Derrynane House website.

To learn more about the Yeats family, please consult the Boston College collection of Yeats family papers or contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Annalisa Moretti, Processing Assistant, John J. Burns Library, Boston College


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The Vietnam War at the Burns Library: The Tip O’Neill Congressional Archives

Another Mother for Peace

“Another Mother for Peace.” Complimentary close from a letter from Pat Eden to Tip O’Neill, February 28, 1973. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA.2009.001) Box 300, Folder 3.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. (1912-1994) served as a Representative for Massachusetts’s Congressional delegation from 1953-1987, including ten years as Speaker of the House (1977-1987). He was also a Boston College alumnus (’36). O’Neill donated his Congressional papers to Boston College in 1988. The collection, which sprawls across 428 linear feet of shelf space, includes not only legislative memos and drafts, but also photographs, news clippings, plaques, trophies, and a collection of donkey-themed bric-a-brac. It also contains many letters from constituents. During O’Neill’s decades-long Congressional tenure, some of the defining events of the American post-war period occurred, including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Watergate, but no single event cast its shadow over the midcentury American political landscape quite like the Vietnam War. The highly controversial conflict in Indochina inspired seven boxes of correspondence from Massachusetts residents eager to express their opinions on the war and Tip’s stance on it. Arranged chronologically, the Vietnam subject files form a record of civic participation in the political process.

O'Neill Card 001

This design appears on many cards O’Neill received regarding the war; this example is  from a card sent by Darryl and Irene Baskin, September 1967. Box 297, Folder 2. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA.2009.001).

Readers familiar with O’Neill’s strong opposition to the war in later years may be surprised to learn that he shifted to an anti-war position in late 1967. Prior to that, O’Neill’s stance was decidedly more equivocal. He sometimes hedged his responses to his constituents’ anti-war letters, expressing concern while also refusing to take a definite stand: “I know of no American who is at ease with the thought of wars, but I know of no American who would willingly yield to Communist aggression. It is my firm belief that we must stand strongly behind our President who alone bears the awesome task of protecting our freedom.” O’Neill’s attempts to navigate the controversy surrounding the war could sometimes embroil him in difficulties.On January 7, 1966, he spoke at a rally in support of U.S. policy in Vietnam in the Massachusetts State House. Organizer Larry Straw wrote him a thank-you letter in which he hoped that “news of these rallies will reach the President and give him strength to make the necessary policies to see that freedom prevails in South Viet Nam.” However, many more letters took umbrage to one particular quote that O’Neill delivered at that rally, as reported by the Boston Herald: “I believe in academic freedom, but not as it is expounded by kooks and commies and egghead professors.” This remark would return to haunt him as multiple letters quoted it in outrage at its characterization of dissenters from official policy. O’Neill’s letters to President Johnson around this time reveal how beleaguered he felt by the barrage of anti-war activity. He informed Johnson on July 18, 1967, “I found the climate of my own District changing rapidly with reference to Vietnam,” adding a note of surprise that the 3,000 attendees of a recent Cambridge Peace Fair “were mainly from a solid middle class social and economic status and there was no evidence of the youthful agitators [he] had expected.” A year and a half after his controversial remark, he found the growing crowds of dissenters harder to dismiss.

Two months after sending that letter to Johnson, O’Neill officially repudiated his earlier support for the President’s war efforts. The September 1967 edition of his newsletter to his constituents, Report from Washington, opens with an essay, “Vietnam: Solution or Stalemate?” in which O’Neill reverses years of his defensive posturing on the issue:


A constituent who regularly corresponded with O’Neill sent his Vietnam newsletter back to him with approving annotations. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 297, Folder 2.

“By August of this year, more than 12,000 young Americans had been killed and 75,000 had been wounded in an exotic land 8,000 miles from home… As a citizen, Congressman, and father, I cannot help but wonder whether this may not be too high a price to pay for an obscure and limited objective. Nor am I alone in my doubts over the growing U.S. involvement in an inherently civil conflict. Judging from the thousands of letters I have received in the past few months, the great majority of you are also upset by the specter of further escalation and an ever-widening war…”

The “thousands of letters” O’Neill received regarding the war up to that date were a trickle compared to the deluge of communication, expressing both support and condemnation, that followed this announcement. The September 1967 letters directly responding to that newsletter occupy two folders in the collection: “Opposition” and “Support.” To give some quantifiable idea of the relative volume of correspondence in each category, I weighed the respective files. The “Opposition” file comes to six ounces; the “Support” file, almost exactly two and a half pounds, or six and two-thirds times greater than the opposition. Both sides invoke the dead. In the “Opposition” file, one constituent writes, “I spent ten months, six of which were in the ‘field,’ the rest in so-called safe areas. Five of my friends died there, two directly for me. I would be very dismayed if we were to halt the bombing of North Viet Nam.” In the “Support” file, another writes, “I have known four boys so far that have been killed in Vietnam and they have ranged from the ages of 19 to 21. It seems now that the parents of this country raise children to have them killed.”

Image of a telegram to Tip O'Neill

Many constituents contacted O’Neill via telegram. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 298, Folder 3. [Note: Address redacted.]

Tip O’Neill’s position shifted at a time when public opinion as a whole tilted further away from supporting the United States’ involvement in the ongoing conflict. Further developments as the war progressed continued to trigger surges of letters from constituents, up to and even after the war’s termination in 1973. I will explore what the O’Neill Papers contain regarding these developments in my next post.

  • Eric Pencek, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & PhD Candidate in the English Department

Works Consulted

Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

  • “400 at Rally Here Back Viet Policy.” Boston Herald, January 8, 1966. Box 296, Folder 2.
  • MacLeod, Stanley. Letter to Tip O’Neill. September 6, 1967. Box 297, Folder 1.
  • Murphy, Mary. Letter to Tip O’Neill. September 5, 1967. Box 297, Folder 2.
  • O’Neill, Tip. Letter to Irene J. Westing, January 6, 1966. Box 296, Folder 2.
  • —. Letter to Larry Straw, January 18, 1966. Box 296, Folder 3.
  • —. Letter to Lyndon B. Johnson, July 18, 1967. Box 296, Folder 8.
  • —. “Vietnam: Solution or Stalemate?” Report from Washington, September 12, 1967.
  • Straw, Larry. Letter to Tip O’Neill, January 8, 1966. Box 296, Folder 3.
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Jane Jacobs Exhibition Explores BC’s Connections to Famed Urban Theorist and Activist

Jane Jacobs would have turned 101 today. She died just short of her 90th birthday following tours for her last book, Dark Age Ahead. Yet, as a letter on exhibit from her archives at Burns Library indicates, she had plans for at least two more books.


Jane Jacobs letter to editor David Ebershoff (11/26/2003) with ideas for her next book. Jane Jacobs Papers (MS.1995.029), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Jacobs had a hard time letting go of her Remington typewriter, even after suffering a stroke and broken hip. And the world, it seems, just won’t let go of her. Or is it that her ideas about what makes cities successful and economies work won’t let go of us?


Poster for Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, released on April 21, 2017

On April 21, 2017, Altimeter Films/Sundance Selects released Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a documentary that revisits the successful protests that Jacobs organized against New York City “master builder” Robert Moses and his efforts during the 1960s to replace older neighborhoods like Jacobs’s own Greenwich Village with multi-lane expressways and cookie-cutter high-rise apartments. Their legendary struggle will also be memorialized on Times Square billboards every night during the month of May with animations from Joshua Frankel’s forthcoming multimedia opera (yes, opera) A Marvelous Order, I LIVE HERE.

While the visual arts community continues to draw the world’s attention back to the David- vs.-Goliath showdown that played out on sidewalks and parks of Lower Manhattan, a far-flung network of Jacobs enthusiasts have been spawning “Jane’s Walks” around the world since 2007. The idea is to encourage people to become more familiar with each other and the streets where they live by walking and talking about them together. The Boston Globe has reported on several walks scheduled in the Boston neighborhoods of Roslindale and West Roxbury as well as surrounding cities.


Cover of Ethics in Making a Living: The Jane Jacobs Conference, proceedings of the 1987 BC symposium.

In Burns Library, we are running an exhibition on Jacobs that explores her close ties to Boston College and the ways these connections shaped her later writings. It opened on April 10, 2017 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Jacobs’s first visit to campus to participate in a symposium devoted to her work. Jacobs gave a pair of talks on “Systems of Economic Ethics” that she subsequently reworked into her 1992 book Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, thanks in part to her continued engagement with several BC faculty and students.

Jacobs returned to the Heights several times during the next several years, the last for a November 2000 symposium “Jane Jacobs & The New Urban Ecology,” organized by the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review.

Jane Jacobs exhibit - Burns Library - Case 2 - 03

Photo of Burns Library exhibit, showing section devoted to Jacobs’s activism

Our exhibition documents Jacob’s involvement with Boston College, the influence it had on her, and her impacts on our community. It is based on our extensive collection of her personal papers, which she began transferring to Burns Library in 1995. It focuses on the evolution and publication of Systems of Survival and Dark Age Ahead two key works in the Jacobs canon in which she outlines the ethical underpinnings of economic systems and how they shape societies. It also includes an overview of Jacobs’s careers as a journalist, activist, and writer. A concluding section contrasts the effects of urban renewal on Boston’s West End and neighborhood revitalization in its North End, illustrating the divergent outcomes Jacobs envisioned in her pioneering study The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It also highlights how BC’s PULSE Program and social enterprise agencies like Boston’s Haley House can embody the principles and values that surface in Jacobs’s writings.

Dark Age Ahead or Systems of Survival? Jane Jacobs and the Ethics of Economies” will remain on display in Burns Library through June 23, 2017. Check the hours and contact/directions pages on our website for details. We’re giving away buttons, bookmarks, posters, and even books, so come by for a visit and find out why Jacobs continues to have such a hold on us you won’t want to let her go!

  • Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian & Associate University Librarian, John J. Burns Library

Related Resources:

  • Read a review of the exhibition in the April 26 edition of The Heights, Boston College’s student newspaper.
  • A finding aid for the Jane Jacob’s Papers in Burns Library may be downloaded from our online catalog. The collection is open and available for research. Please contact our reference staff for assistance by writing burnsref@bc.edu or calling our reading room at 617-552-6489.
  • For further background on Jacob’s visits to Boston College, read the articles that appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Boston College Magazine and the Carroll Connection, an online publication of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.
  • Ethics in Making a Living: The Jane Jacobs Conference, proceedings of the 1987 BC symposium.


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A Programmed History of Boston College’s Theater

One aspect of Boston College’s Robsham Theater Arts Center stands out above the rest: its windows. The lure of its elongated mirrors is too great to resist, reflecting both banners of previous productions and the people who walk by the building. Windows like these are built to display the surroundings and to broadcast the breadth of BC dramatic arts from the interior.

These windows have not always boasted years of dramatic success. Robsham and the BC Theatre Department are relatively new, with the former not completed until 1981 and the latter absent before 1993. Despite the lack of a theatre department, BC has had a strong dramatic tradition since its early days. Fortunately, we can trace its history through the programs and other materials held in the University Archives at the Burns Library.

Joseph and His Brethren cast sheet

Joseph and His Brethren, performed in 1865. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 11. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Without a theatre department, the dramatic arts were in the custody of passionate students who established the Dramatics Society (DS) two years after Boston College opened in 1864. DS was the theater-producing arm of BC for nearly 130 years. At its inception, it emphasized classical playwrights, running a single production each year along with annual stage-readings of Shakespeare.

Because BC was an all-male institution back then, female roles posed a tricky problem. Interestingly enough, DS decided that rather than have males play female roles, they would simply omit the female characters. While this was a convenient solution that worked for almost 50 years, Macbeth is a very different story without the overwhelming dominance of Lady Macbeth.


Cast of Macbeth, 1892. Note the absence of both Lady Macbeth and Lady MacDuff in the credits. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 13. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

As BC theater evolved into more complex productions, the programs become thicker, more informative, and increasingly professional. Indeed, the programs of the early 1900s could be mistaken for those of a much longer established theatre company.

It is around this time that women were introduced into the scene. Although DS still performed with a male-only cast until the mid-1900s (with males finally starting to play female characters in 1904), the Boston College Philomatheia Club – Boston College’s female fundraising club – worked with professors and DS to produce musicals. These musicals often had a female lead or an exaggerated number of female characters. BC was not fully coeducational until the 1970s, but women had begun to make their mark on BC through the dramatic arts.


Portrait of Florence Martin, Peg in the 1915 production of Peg O’ My Heart. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 15. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Although interest in campus theatrics declined during and after World War I, it was revitalized in the 1930s by John Louis Bonn, SJ. Bonn acted as both director and moderator of DS for over 20 years, as he oversaw both the individual productions and the everyday operations of the club. His passion for theater carried DS through the hardships of World War II, inspired future celebrities such as Leonard Nimoy and Ed McMahon, and founded the Summer School of Dramatic Arts and other programs. In BC theater, Bonn is a person of legend; the Bonn Studio, a black box theater in the Robsham Theater Arts Center, is named and dedicated in his honor.


Portrait of John Louis Bonn, SJ in program for Second Spring, 1939—a show moderated by Bonn. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 18. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Although Bonn increased the standards of BC theater, BC performers were still without a performance space. DS held their shows anywhere they could. However, the venues – such as Boston’s Repertory Theater or Boston College’s lecture halls and lawn – often left performances cramped or rushed for time.


Ticket for the ‘Open Air Production’ of The Comedy of Errors, performed on Bapst Lawn in 1920. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 15. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The need for a theater was great. Luckily, BC had professors Joseph M. Larkin, SJ and J. P. Marcoux to spearhead the campaign for a highly technical, professional theater. Larkin and Marcoux petitioned the administration, designed the entire theater, and solicited funds for its construction. What is now the Robsham Theater Arts Center opened in 1981 after less than 2 years of construction: the dream of over 100 years of theater at Boston College realized.


The front and back of an advertisement for the new Boston College Theater Arts Center. This space was named “Robsham” in 1985 in honor of the deceased son of E. Paul and Joyce Robsham, major benefactors of the Theater’s construction. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 27. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Continue reading

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Joachim Bouvet: the History of Cang-Hi, the Present Emperor of China

engraving of Joachim Bouvet, SJ

Joachim Bouvet, SJ, from Bouvet’s French history about Kangxi / Cang-hy and contained in Du Halde’s French encyclopaedia.

Joachim Bouvet was born in Le Mans, France, on July 18, 1656. In 1673, he entered the Society of Jesus in hopes going on a China mission. His wish was granted when King Louis XIV sent him and five other Jesuits to Beijing in 1685. The Cang-Hi Emperor welcomed the Jesuits and Bouvet, along with a fellow Jesuit, Jean-Francois Gerbillion, remained in the imperial court and taught European sciences. In 1679, the Cang-Hi Emperor sent Father Bouvet back to France with a gift of forty-nine Chinese volumes for King Louis XIV and to retrieve new missionaries. During his time back in France, Bouvet published two works about China, one of which is The History of Cang-Hi, the Present Emperor of China, held by Burns Library in the Jesuitica Collection. Father Bouvet returned to China in 1699 with ten new missionaries and a collection of engravings from King Louis XIV for the Cang-Hi Emperor. Father Bouvet became the interpreter to Cang-Hi Emperor’s son, the heir-apparent. Bouvet would stay in China until his death on June 28, 1730.

Title Page of History of Cang-Hy

Title Page. Bouvet, Joachim. History of Cang-Hy the present emperor of China. London : Printed for F. Coggan, 1699

Bouvet composed The History of Cang-Hi, the Present Emperor of China to King Louis XIV shortly after he returned to France from China. In the letter, Bouvet describes his experiences in China in detail, focusing on his interactions with the Emperor, Cang-Hi. He describes the Emperor as, “Well-proportioned in his limbs, and pretty tall, the features of his face very exact, with a large and brisk eye. He is a little crooked nosed, and pitted with the small-pox, but not so as to be in the least disfigured by them”. Bouvet greatly praises the Cang-Hi Emperor’s intelligence, stating that, “His natural genius is such as can be paralleled but by few, being endowed with a quick and piercing wit, a vast memory, and great understanding”. He also presents the Emperor as extremely capable in archery and talented in musical instruments. In his letters, Bouvet calls the Cang-Hi Emperor “the most potent Prince in the World,” and “a declared Enemy of a Lazy and Idle Life, for he never go’s (sic) to bed but very late, and rises early.” During his contact with the Emperor, Bouvet also developed great respect for the Emperor’s sons, brothers, and court officials.

The Cang-Hi Emperor believed a strong education to be crucial for a successful kingdom and sought out ways to increase his own knowledge in hopes that his subjects would follow his example.  In his letter, Bouvet recounts how he and the other Jesuits translated Euclid’s Elements of Geometry into Tartarian, which highly delighted the Cang-Hi Emperor. The Emperor then personally wrote a preface for the translated versions of the Euclid, printed a great number of them, and distributed them widely throughout China in both languages. The Emperor was also deeply fascinated with the scientific and mathematical instruments brought by Bouvet and spent a great amount of time examining their uses.

Portrait of the Kangxi Emperor in Court Dress, late Kangxi period

Portrait of the Kangxi Emperor in Court Dress, late Kangxi period

Toward the end of his letter, Bouvet compares the Cang-Hi Emperor to King Louis XIV, stating, “I will make bold to say, that in so many respects he resembles your Majesty, that like you, he would be one of  the most accomplished monarchs that ever wore a Crown.” However, in order for the present Cang-Hi Emperor to achieve the same happiness as King Louis XIV, he must “embrace the Christian Faith, and profess it with the same sincerity as you.” Because the Cang-Hi Emperor allows his subjects the freedom of religion, Bouvet is optimistic and believes that many Chinese can be converted to Christianity in a relatively short amount of time; especially if the Emperor himself becomes a Christian. Due to China’s large population, Bouvet writes, “we may promise ourselves all the hopes for success from those sent into China, which alone are more valuable than all the rest together, because they are likely to bring a greater number of infidels to the church, than may be expected from all the other parts of the world.” Bouvet appears to have enjoyed his time in China and, based on his experiences and observations, asks King Louis XIV to send him back to China with more missionaries.


The Kangxi-Emperor in armor

During his time in Beijing, China, Joachim Bouvet wrote several mathematical treatises and also served as the Chinese emperor’s envoy to France. Bouvet also made huge improvements in the field of map-making and mathematics. His efforts greatly advanced the interest of Christianity and facilitated the entrance and the labors of other missionaries.

  • Lilly Sun, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Boston College, Class of 2020

Works Consulted:

Bouvet, Joachim. History of Cang-Hy the present emperor of China. London : Printed for F. Coggan, 1699

MENTAG, J. V. “Bouvet, Joachim.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2003, p. 571. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

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