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HIST4702 (2023-24) Digital History Project: 火攻挈要


《火攻挈要》 (Huo gong qie yao, All Essential Matters on Firearms) is a book on artillery and gunpowder dictated by Jesuit missionary Johann Adam Schall von Bell (湯若望, 1591-1666) and recorded by Jiao Xu (焦勖) in 1643, the year before the historic 1644 when Beijing was taken by Qing. Our project aims to investigate the historical background, content, and implementation of the military technologies recorded in 《火攻挈要》.

In order to explicitly and logically visualize the origin, content, and impact of 《火攻挈要》, a total of 5 digital methods are utilized in our project, including:

  1. Video Creation
  2. Map Creation
  3. 3D Modelling
  4. Text Mining
  5. Data Visualization

The whole project is divided into four interrelated parts: the first part, “Introduction“, includes two historical documentaries that provide a deeper insight into the macro-historical background, the author, and the process of composition of 《火攻挈要》. The second part, Historical Context : Firearms with Ming Dynasty, contains three digital maps created using QGIS, to provide the historical context of the widespread of firearms in late Ming, hence explaining the underlying factor that gave birth to 《火攻挈要》. The third part, “Military Technologies: as Shown in 《火攻挈要》“, focuses on the content of the book, which manifests the development of military technology in the late Ming by categorizing and visualizing the firearms, tools, buildings, and gunpowders recorded, using historical video, 3D modelling, and text mining. And the final part, “Intellectual Origins and Impact“, traces and explains the intellectual origin, interrelationship with other congeneric books, and its subsequent development in mid-Qing, using text mining.

Holistic Historical Background

This video is a good start to understanding our project through the macro-historical context. It delves into three parts, including the introduction of the rich military history of the Ming Dynasty, highlighting key battles, strategies, and the overall performance of warfare during that era. It begins with a history of the development of firearms in the world. During the Ming Dynasty in China, the creation and use of firearms reached a new peak, and a missionary from Germany, Adam Schall, came to China and taught advanced firearms manufacturing experience, which was eventually written into a book on firearms called《火攻挈要》.

Adam Schall and His Book

This video centers around the remarkable life of Adam Schall, a prominent figure who played a crucial role in writing 《火攻挈要》and the content of 《火攻挈要》, meticulously examining its profound insights.