I’ve been intrigued by Peter Boodberg since reading John DeFrancis’s account of the Creel-Boodberg debate. But only recently did I finally shell out the US$80 or so it currently costs to pick up a used copy of Boodberg’s selected works (compiled by Alvin P. Cohen).
But after receiving my book and doing some Web searches in preparation for this Pinyin News entry, I discovered that some of Boodberg’s works are available online (at least to some).
Jstor, an important online archive of scholarly journals, has all but the most recent editions of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, in which Boodberg published (between 1936 and 1957) several of his all-too-few works. While many do not have access to Jstor’s files, most of the sort of people who would be interested in reading titles like “Some Proleptical Remarks on the Evolution of Archaic Chinese” probably do — or at least know someone who does. (Try asking people at universities.) If you’re not sure if you have Jstor access or not, try any of the links in the list below.
Some works by Peter A. Boodberg available online:
- Some Proleptical Remarks on the Evolution of Archaic Chinese (This is Boodberg’s first reply to Creel. Alas, his second reply — the blistering “‘Ideography’ or Iconology?” — was published in a journal not covered by Jstor and is thus not online.)
- The Language of the T’o-Pa Wei
- Two Notes on The History of The Chinese Frontier
- Marginalia to The Histories of The Northern Dynasties
- Marginalia to The Histories of The Northern Dynasties
- Chinese Zoographic Names as Chronograms
- An Early Mongolian Toponym
- Philological Notes on Chapter One of The Lao Tzu
Some of Boodberg’s closely argued points don’t make for easy reading, but his style should not be mistaken for dry, because he can be suprisingly direct. For example, have a look at how he introduces his refutations of some of Creel’s more naive points:
[A]s a philologist and teacher of Chinese, I am naturally perturbed by — and cannot remain indifferent to — the rise of a methodology which produces, not in comparatively innocuous special articles, but in text-books through which a new generation of sinologists is expected to be trained, puerilities such as the following….
Yeah! Alas, such puerilities still abound today, 65 years after he made those remarks.
I had wanted to post a link to the In Memorium on Boodberg by Y.R. Chao and others, but, oddly, the original page seems to have disappeared. It would be a shame if this were lost, so I’m posting a copy of the Google cache of the above page before even that is gone.
Peter Alexis Boodberg, Oriental Languages: Berkeley
Agassiz Professor of Oriental Languages and Literature, Emeritus
Peter Boodberg spent his boyhood in Vladivostok, where his father was commanding general of the Czarist forces. He left Vladivostok around 1920, made his way to California via Harbin and Japan, and enrolled at Berkeley as an undergraduate. When he received the Ph.D. in Oriental languages in 1930, he was already a humanistic scholar of unusual promise, superbly equipped with a knowledge of the principal ancient and modern Indo-European, Semitic, Hamitic, Altaic, Sinitic, and Malayo-Polynesian languages, with a broad acquaintance of major world cultures, with a mind that was both strikingly original and rigorously disciplined, and with a poet’s sensitivity to the nuances of language, and for the philological studies that he thought of as “the ability to conduct significant conversations with the dead.” During his early years on the Berkeley faculty, which he joined in 1932, he attracted wide professional attention with a series of erudite articles reflecting the three major areas of interest that became his permanent concerns–Sino-Altaica, early Chinese cultural history, and the classical Chinese script. By 1940 he was chairman of the Oriental languages department, which, during the entire decade, he gradually elevated to national prominence, stamping it in the process with his own passionate concern for scholarly discipline and integrity.
In the classroom, Boodberg was stimulating and provocative. His Great Books course was known throughout the University, his courses on Chinese characters and the Asiatic languages stretched the horizons of generations of undergraduate majors, and his impact on graduate students was profound and lasting. His courses were not closely organized; rather, his effectiveness as a teacher sprang from the power of his intellect, the breadth of his learning, and his ability to kindle the imagination of students and inspire them with his own scholarly ideals.
Boodberg loved the give-and-take of intellectual debate. In the 1940s, he took the lead in organizing the Colloquium Orientologicum, a faculty group with interests spanning the Asiatic continent. In the 40s and 50s the Colloquium attracted a surprisingly wide range of participants, but its prime movers were always Boodberg and a few other eminent humanists, mostly of European origin, whose far-reaching interests and lively wit made it a forum that was perhaps unique in Berkeley’s history.
Boodberg was a delightful conversationalist. The swift play of his imagination invested the most casual encounter with an aura of unpredictability, and he could usually be counted on for an amusing anecdote (typically at his own expense), delivered with his characteristic accent and high-pitched laugh. The elegance of his diction reflected what one Russian-speaking friend called “the artistic strain in Pjotr Alekseevich.” In the spacious chambers of his mind, there was room not only for the concerns of the philologist, but also for music and poetry. He had a great admiration for Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose techniques he borrowed for his own brilliant interpretations of Tu Fu; and to those who recall the delicacy and grace of his memorial tribute to Shih-Hsiang Ch’en, it will come as no surprise to learn that he composed verses in English and Russian.
Boodberg was not what is called a productive scholar. He discussed the fruits of his research in frequent public lectures, such as his presidential addresses to the American Oriental Society and its western branch (which he helped to found), and he produced, for limited distribution, numerous short technical papers, notably his “Cedules from a Berkeley Workshop in Asiatic Philology,” which are now collectors’ items, but the ambitious scope of his research projects, coupled with a certain innate diffidence, prevented what he referred to as “premature publication.” One of his long-term interests was a bold attempt to establish a complex of Western graphic symbols to represent each of the 30,000 characters of the classical Chinese script; another was a monograph on the life of Confucius, whose disciple he sometimes jokingly proclaimed himself. Despite the warmth of his personality, he had, indeed, a Confucian dignity and sense of decorum. Few people called him Peter. He was like Confucius, also, in his conviction that the proper concern of the scholar is “the meditative treasuring up of knowledge, the unwearying pursuit of wisdom, and the timeless instruction of others,” and in the affectionate respect he inspired in students and colleagues. We who knew him will not forget him or learn to bear his loss with indifference.
He leaves his sister Valentina, his wife Elena, and his daughter Xenia, a concert pianist of whom he was touchingly proud.
Yuen Ren Chao