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Charles Ralph BOXER

Doctor of Letters
honoris causa

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of world history in recent centuries has been the expansion overseas of a small number of small European states and the extension of their governments' sway over far distant lands. To this phenomenon we have given the name colonisation and, though we may describe the system so developed as "colonialism" (and thereby commit ourselves to what is, today, a pejorative expression), we must acknowledge its role in the history of civilisation and appreciate the extent to which it has contributed to the development of relations between peoples of diverse languages and cultures. Many hundreds of years ago, groups of hardy adventurers left their European homelands in their small ships and ventured across strange seas. Amongst these seafarers were Portuguese, Dutchmen and Englishmen and all of them were drawn to the richness of the East, to the wealth of its silks and spices. They probed the unknown waters and met peoples with essentially alien cultures and languages. As these early explorers charted the unknown and treacherous waters of the China and Japanese seas and thus opened them to the trade and cultural contact which followed, so the contribution which professor Charles Ralph Boxer has made to the understanding of this movement of peoples and cultures has led us to an understanding of the proper significance of imperial expansion and its impact both on the coloniser and colonised, its effect on those countries such as China and Japan which remained free from governmental domination by the intruders. Whilst the concept of imperial rule and the exploitation of overseas possessions has now given way to a new world in which the political map is drawn according to principles of independence, we cannot overlook the importance of the importation of European notions of statehood, of the relation between one sovereign and another in the development of a modern system of international relations and we cannot discount the value of achieving a degree of understanding of contrasting cultures. I may quote the words of Milton, albeit in another context: "As thy empire must extend, So let thy mind extend o'er all the world."

A study of colonial history and of cultural contact between peoples cannot therefore be an arid catalogue of economic achievement and political mutation: rather it is a study of the development of our world civilisation. Professor Boxer is today one of the world's leading experts on the history of European expansion overseas, in which subject he presently holds a Chair at Yale University. But the route by which he arrived within the grove of Academe was by no means the usual or the expected. He was born into a military family and his early education had a military flavour: he attended Wellington College, proceeded to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and the Army became his career when he was commissioned into the Lincolnshires, a regiment in which both his father and brother also served. His military duties took him overseas and he found that his interest in history, first conceived as a school boy, consumed increasingly his scholarly energies. During the time that he spent in the Far East in the years before the Second World War, he became fascinated by the interaction between the culture of the European interlopers and that of the country in which they found themselves. This was the subject of one of Professor Boxer's first major contributions to history, "Jan Campagnie in Japan, 1600-1817", in which he explored the influence of the Dutchmen on Japanese artistic and scientific thought. During the Second World War, Professor Boxer, like so many of his contemporaries, was forced into an involuntary sabbatical. When Hong Kong fell to the Japanese in 1941, he was serving here as a staff officer and was wounded in the fighting. In 1947, he retired from the Army and commenced his distinguished academic career, springing fully armed from the ground as Camoens Professor of Portuguese in the University of London. From that time he embarked on an academic life of immense pace and remarkable fecundity. He worked his way systematically through vast quantities of documentary material and a steady flow of important works came from his pen, too many to be catalogued here this evening but I may mention "Fidalgos in the Far East", "The Portuguese Seaborne Empire" and "The Christian Century in Japan". Without these works and the way in which they serve as signposts to the whole area, it would be the more difficult for us to begin to appreciate this chapter of history.

Mr Chancellor, in recognition of the contribution which he has made to our knowledge and understanding of the history of European activity in the Far East I respect-fully request you to confer on Professor Charles Ralph Boxer the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters.

Citation written and delivered by Professor Dafydd Meurig Emrys Evans, LLB, BCL, the Public Orator of the University.

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