A Virtual Journey Around the World Atlas (1602) by Matteo Ricci SJ edited by P. Pasquale D’Elia SJ (1938)
‘Todo el mundo es nuestra casa’ (MHSI, 90: 469-70 Exhortationes complutenses  )is a famous say by Jerónimo Nadal SJ, known to all students of the Society of Jesus. It was Nadal’s opinion that Jesuit missionaries should maintain an accommodating and flexible attitude towards the cultural practices and daily habits of the countries where they were sent to evangelize. They should quickly adjust to foreign cultures so as to make themselves at home wherever they went and be perceived by natives not as guests but as effective members of their communities.
Cartography, although not being a field of specialization for the Jesuits, was indeed part of the ‘mixed mathematics’or ‘scientiae mediae’, a body of mathematical disciplines, ranging from optics to cosmology which was part of the Jesuit curriculum. For this reason it has to be considered as a significant aspect of those fields of knowledge that the Jesuits disseminated in mission lands, especially in China, where the intellectual élite as well as the Imperial court were enticed by Western ways of representing space, both in painting, according to the tenets of linear perspective, and in maps, which required geometrical operations in order to reproduce the grid of longitudes and latitudes. This grid of parallel lines, the parallels and meridians, assimilated the sky and the earth by means of a homogeneous graphic of the cosmos (cosmographia) that would reflect the coherent plan of God’s creation. ‘Cosmography was a universal geography, gifted by the harmony of mathematics and the structure of astronomy’.(Woodward 1996) In Europe, court cosmographers like Egnazio Danti played an essential role in assisting the rulers they served in finding their own place in the Christian history of the globe, reflected in the mappamundi, a symbol of ‘modernity, universality and integration of heaven and earth’. (Woodward, 31). Jesuit missionaries were in charge of the Astronomical Bureau at the Chinese court from late Ming through the Qing for nearly one hundred and fifty years. It was a prestigious appointment, given the importance that the calendar possessed as a means to legitimise the Chinese imperial policy: for over a century Jesuit missionaries were responsible for ordering the emperor’s time and space and served him with unconditional loyalty. The World Atlas was one of the tools employed by Ricci to pave the way towards this remarkable achievement.
At the beginning of the XX century, another Jesuit savant, Pasquale D’Elia (see the inventory of his papers in APUG), thought to make an annotated edition of Ricci’s World Atlas. Digital technology not yet being available, his work took the form of a large in-folio tome,as unhandy as it was the original it reproduced. Nonetheless, his endeavour was remarkable for accuracy and thoroughness, one that deserves being brought to the attention of scholars, students and the general audience by means of the website that this project plans to create. Pasquale D’Elia, a professor of the Gregorian University, is mainly known for his massive editorial work of Ricci’s journal, printed as Fonti ricciane. Very few scholars know that he has been also a professor of Sinology at Sapienza from 1940 to 1962. The cooperation established between various Departments at Sapienza and the Historical Archives of the Gregorian University has so far materialised through a series of outstanding projects to which both students and faculty have taken part. Indeed, one of the projects currently being implemented concerns the creation of a descriptive catalogue of D’Elia’s private and working papers, held at the our Gregorian Archives (APUG). This project proposal grows out of such an endeavour and must be intended not only as a tribute to one of D’Elia’s most remarkable works, but also as a preliminary step towards a complete digitalization of Jesuit cartography during the early modern period.
We propose to use new technology to make Ricci’s map known to a larger audience and to create an open access database that will promote web encounters among virtual travellers who, like old time Jesuits, wish to make the world their home.
This project’s first aim is a digitalization of the annotated edition by Pasquale D’Elia (D’Elia, 1938) of the World Atlas executed by Matteo Ricci and Li Zhizao in 1602.This act must be intended not only as a tribute to one of D’Elia’s most remarkable and less known works, but also as a preliminary step towards a complete digitalization of Jesuit cartography during the early modern period. In so doing, the project differentiates from already existing electronic images of the World Atlas, mainly the one executed by the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, based on the copy purchased in 2009 by the James Ford Bell Trust for the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, as well as from recent printed editions of Ricci’s map (Mignini, 2013). The Ricci World Atlas Project will make available to web users a true virtual journey through a world map that poses a cluster of complex historical, scientific and iconographic problems, suggesting multiple entanglements between history and power, theology and politics. In order to disclose the various layers of understanding of this complex work, a data base containing historical and linguistic metadata will be created, resulting also in a computational lexicon (containing geographical lexemes, astronomical and other scientific lexemes, Chinese graphs) as well as a named entity repository and a visual and iconographic repository. The possibility of expansion into a future mapping that will include the whole of Jesuit cartography of the early modern period, will be foreseen at the very outset of the open access data base, thereby taking into account future growth and improvement of the Ricci World Atlas web site. The web site will be supported by one of the servers of the CNR ILC and IIT, scientific partners in this project.