China Historical Christian Database digital tool launched

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On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University launched and presented the first version of the China Historical Christian Database (CHCD) via a Zoom meeting.

CHCD is a digital tool that quantifies and visualizes the place of Christianity in modern China (1550-1950).

According to the project introduction, “It provides users with the tools to find out where all the Christian churches, schools, hospitals, orphanages, publishing houses and the like were located in China, and it documents who worked in those buildings, both foreigners and Chinese.” Taken together, this information creates spatial maps and networks of relationships that show where, when, and how Western ideas, technologies, and practices entered China. At the same time, it reveals how and by whom Chinese ideas, technologies and practices were transported to the West.

Along with about 100 attendees, the virtual launch featured the project’s three main investigators – Eugenio Menegon, Daryl Ireland and Alex Mayfield.

Eugenio Menegon, associate professor of Chinese history at Boston University, presented that the database focuses on Christianity in what is now China’s geographic area, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, within the 400-year time frame between 1550 and 1950.

Alex Mayfield, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Global Christianity and Mission, explained that the project began in Professor Menegon’s class exploring digital humanity toolsets. Archives and records in multiple languages, contributed by partner institutes, were excavated, cleaned and analyzed to develop this digital tool.

“Our main goal was to create through the interface and technology so that we can improve digital literacy and enable people to truly understand and visualize the history of Christianity in China, a history that unfortunately often remains hidden to many people around the world. said Mayfield. The site is free, open and accessible to all without the need for registration.

Daryl Ireland then showed how this open source database provides insight into the institutions, places and people involved in Christianity in China. The Associate Director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission demonstrated that users can search for “People,” “Institutions,” or “Events” on the “Map” tab to see their count, location, current time, and others on the map display visualized information. By using a “heatmap” users can also see the density of the objects they are looking for.

Director Ireland explained that this database is intended to show spatial and relational information rather than a biographical introduction. Clicking on each entity reveals basic information such as Western Name and/or Chinese Name, Religious Family, Category and Start Year, while the other boxes Personal/Institutional Relationships and Corporate Relationships allow users to learn more about the network that it is could offer an unusual insight into the life of a missionary in China.

In order to make good use of this tool, Director Ireland recommended that users refer to the Documentation tab to understand what data was collected for each category. “When you look at this, you quickly realize that there are some things you can do with our data and some things you can’t. For example, we record when someone arrived in China and when someone left. So you could make a comparison between men and women: how long did men stay in China compared to how long women stayed in China. You can’t do that with the interface because we didn’t develop it for that, but you could download the data and analyze it.”

The team is still working on expanding and optimizing the project, the lead investigators said. The website has Chinese (Simplified/Traditional) interfaces, but the Chinese search engine is currently rather limited, so it is expected to be improved. Investigators also indicated that they hoped to get more data on Chinese Christians and organizations so that current biases towards Western missionaries could be corrected.

The website may inevitably contain errors, source errors and incomplete data. The team encourages users to contact them through the site to report bugs and suggest data sources.

China Historical Christian Database digital tool launched

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