Project „Digitalization of Travel Accounts from the Desbillons Collection“
Mannheim University Library (Germany), with the assistance of a grant by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, is digitizing travel accounts from the Debillons collection. These digitized texts are important resources especially for the history and cultural history of Latin America, North America and Asia during early modern history and the activities of the Jesuits in these countries.
The Desbillons collection is the most important historic collection in the holdings of Mannheim University Library and represents the most comprehensive collection of 18th century French literature outside of France. The French Jesuit priest François-Joseph Terrasse Desbillons (1694 – 1778) left France in 1764 after the prohibition of his order and moved to Mannheim following an invitation by the elector Carl Theodor. He was well known to the contemporary audience as a writer of fables, considered himself an opponent of the enlightenment, and brought with him a large, continuously expanding collection of books to Mannheim. His collection comprises all fields of knowledge at that time and includes books about history as well as ethnography, theology, law and literature.
The conveyed titles reflect the Jesuit activities outside of Europe. A prominent example is the account of a journey to Siam by the Jesuit priest Guy Tachard, who in 1685 was part of an expedition to Siam initiated by Louis XIV. and published an account of this journey: “Voyage de Siam des pères Jésuites, envoyés par le Roy, aux Indes & à la Chine : avec leurs observations astronomiques, & leurs remarques de physique, de géographie, d’hydrographie, & d’histoire”. The 1687 edition is part of the Desbillons collection. This account is of high relevance for the research of the Jesuit mission in Siam, because unlike Latin America or China this country has not yet been extensively explored and will be of increased interest in the future. Moreover, this travel account with its included astronomical observations shows a connection between travel accounts and scientific advances of that time and could make an important contribution to the research of early modern natural sciences.
In the same tradition stands the biography of the missionary Julien Maunoir written by Antoine Boschet – an important resource for the history of French colonisation and the role of the Jesuits in the French province Nouvelle-France that extended from Newfoundland to the Mississippi during the 17th and 18th centuries. The title of this biography is “Le parfait missionaire : ou la vie du R.P. Julien Maunoir de la Compagnie de Jésus, Missionaire en Bretagne” (1697), it is part of the Desbillons collection.
Worth mentioning is a history of the Mogul empire written by the French Jesuit and historian François Catrou (1659 – 1737): “Histoire générale de l’empire du Mogol depuis sa fondation”. Catrou was the son of one of Louis XIV.’s secretaries and became well-known also as the co-editor of the Jesuit scientific journal “Journal de Trévoux”.
In the context of the presented project Mannheim University Library will digitize 800 works and make them available to the scientific public in its portal.
Dr. Christian Hänger: email@example.com
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