Zhejiang University and Harvard University CBDB workshop

Reengaging with Chinese Universities – Professor Peter K. Bol Takes the China Biographical Database (CBDB) on the Road

Harvard China Fund in Action: (Re)engage with China Grant Recipient, Peter K. Bol, Charles H Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations

November 21, 2023

In late October and November, as part of the initiatives by the Harvard China Fund and the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies to reengage activities in China, the China Biographical Database (CBDB) project traveled to universities all across the country to meet with its many collaborators. The project, established in is revolutionizing the way historians do their work by allowing them to track and map the social and professional relationships of poets, literati, officials, and more. Wang Hongsu, the project’s Senior Manager, together with Harvard CBDB executive committee members Song Chen, Ph.D. Candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Peter K. Bol, Charles H Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, held workshops on CBDB’s uses and gave lectures on how digital tools are expanding the possibilities for the study of humanities. CBDB was jointly developed by the Fairbank Center, the Center for Research on Ancient Chinese History at Peking University, and the Institute of History and Philology of Academia Sinica and currently has information on over 530,00 historical figures, mainly from the Tang through the Qing dynasty.

There has been an explosion of interest in the digital humanities in China, beginning with computer science and the social sciences and now the humanities and literature. We are catching the wave and creating new avenues for collaboration.

— Peter K. Bol

The group held workshops at Fudan, Jiaotong, and East China Normal universities in Shanghai; Zhejiang University and the Zhejiang Provincial Library in Hangzhou; Shaoxing University in Shaoxing; Sichuan University in Chengdu; Henan University in Kaifeng; Northeastern Normal University in Changchun; and Peking, Tsinghua, and Renmin universities in Beijing. In addition to showing how CBDB, as a relational database, could be used for queries about office holding, kinship, social associations, and writings, the workshops introduced two methods of visualizing CBDB data: social network analysis and spatial analysis. Spatial analysis draws on the China Historical Geographic Information System (CHGIS), jointly developed by Harvard with the Center for Historical Geography at Fudan University. After the workshops, past visiting scholars also presented their digital humanities research. Throughout the trip, the Harvard scholars and their Chinese counterparts agreed to pursue further collaboration.