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This is the first in a series of introductions to archives in libraries, museums, and other institutions that collect, preserve, and make available for research photographs of Asia.


Within some of its seventy-five libraries and several museums, Harvard holds scattered collections of photographs of Asia. Some of those collections are static while others continue to expand through donations or purchases. Some are subject-focused, such as those of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum and the Harvard Business School. Except at the Harvard-Yenching Library, the collections are not centered solely on Asia. All of the collections support the university’s educational mission. Making the many thousands of photographs available for researchers is a heady undertaking that involves issues of cataloging, conservation, restoration, access, copyright, digitization, and publication permissions. This essay will focus on the larger and most accessible collections Harvard collections.

The Harvard-Yenching Library holds the largest collection of books in East Asian languages in any academic institution outside of Asia. Its earliest photograph from East Asia actually predates the 1928 establishment of the library by almost four decades. In 1882 a group of Boston businessmen engaged in the China trade decided that Harvard should offer instruction in Chinese to prepare their successors for endeavors in China. Ko K’un-hua 戈昆化 (Ge Kunhua in pinyin Romanization) (Fig. 1) was recruited to come to Cambridge. Three studio portraits of him hang on the Library’s walls and another is held by the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Fig. 1: Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University. Photographer unknown; ca. 1879.Fig. 1: Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University. Photographer unknown; ca. 1879.

The next significant acquisition of Asia photos did not appear until 1949 when Prof. John King Fairbank bought for Harvard the photographic prints and albums collected by Edward Bangs Drew, an 1863 graduate of Harvard who immediately upon graduation ventured to China to begin an illustrious half-century career with China’s Imperial Maritime Customs Service under Sir Robert Hart. Drew’s photographs were acquired from his daughter Lucy Drew. That assemblage holds about 225 images and includes photos of Chinese post offices and lighthouses, which the Customs Service ran, Drew’s friends and colleagues, the interior of Drew’s various residences, a tintype of his children’s amah, an album of cartes de visite that contains portraits of many of the prominent men of China’s expatriate community at the time (and often, also of their wives), and two studio portraits of Li Hongzhang, China’s senior statesman for whom Drew served as Secretary of Mission during the U.S. and Canadian phases of Li’s worldwide tour on behalf of China’s Empress Dowager (Figs. 2 & 3).

Fig. 2: “Post office staff, Foochow, 1906,” photographer unknown; gelatin silver process on card (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork353148). Fig. 2: “Post office staff, Foochow, 1906,” photographer unknown; gelatin silver process on card (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork353148).
Fig. 3: “Li Hung Chang,” photo by Eugène Pirou, Paris, 1896; platinum print on Imperial card mount (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork354421). Fig. 3: “Li Hung Chang,” photo by Eugène Pirou, Paris, 1896; platinum print on Imperial card mount (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork354421).

The Drew photos are part of a collection that includes many of Drew’s papers, important documents from the Siege of the Legations during the Boxer Rebellion (when Drew and his family experienced the siege with, among others the future president of the U.S., Herbert Hoover, then an engineer at work in China); and Drew’s Customs Service uniform and a medal awarded by the Emperor of China, a recent (2011) gift from his descendants. All of the photos were treated by the Harvard library’s Weissman Preservation Center and then cataloged individually and digitized (to see the photos, search for “Edward Bangs Drew” in Harvard’s Visual Information Access catalog at http://via.lib.harvard.edu/via/deliver/advancedsearch?_collection=via). At the suggestion of a visiting research fellow, the cartes de visite were removed from the album before digitizing, thereby revealing a wealth of information on their obverse that previously was unknown, including in many instances identification of the subjects, the photographers, and the dates. Some of the best-known photographers operating in Asia came to the fore, including Ah-Fong, Thomas Child, and S. Yamamoto (Figs 4 & 5).

Fig. 4: “William Hancock, Chinese Maritime Customs Service official, posing with unidentified Sumatran man [recto],” photo by G. R. Lambert & Co, Singapore 1891; albumen print on card (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork360292). Fig. 4: “William Hancock, Chinese Maritime Customs Service official, posing with unidentified Sumatran man [recto],” photo by G. R. Lambert & Co, Singapore 1891; albumen print on card (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork360292).
Fig. 5: “William Hancock, Chinese Maritime Customs Service official, posing with unidentified Sumatran man [verso], photo by G. R. Lambert & Co., Singapore 1891; albumen print on card (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork360292). Fig. 5: “William Hancock, Chinese Maritime Customs Service official, posing with unidentified Sumatran man [verso], photo by G. R. Lambert & Co., Singapore 1891; albumen print on card (Edward Bangs Drew Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork360292).

In 1982, independent researcher Mary Ellen Alonso secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to collect or borrow photos of China’s minorities held in private hands and then copy and catalog them for the Harvard-Yenching Library. In many instances the owners of the images gave Alonso the originals for Harvard. Most of the photographs acquired by Alonso were made by members of the China Inland Mission but others were taken by Americans engaged in other activities in China and all capture a China that today can be experienced only virtually.

Several thousand photos of China thus came into the collection, although others were lost to Harvard because of the lack of sufficient funding to copy them. The images (Figs. 6 & 7) made by The Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr., an American Episcopal priest who served for many years as a missionary to China’s Muslims in the far west, are, we are told, among the few visual records remaining of Christian missionary activity among China’s Muslim populations. More importantly perhaps, many of the stele and mosques that appear in the Pickens images were destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976).

Fig. 6: “Along the old Silk Road to Europe. East Gate, Hao Tien. ‘Do not divide Moslems and Chinese’” Photo by The Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr., Dong Men, Haodian, Gansu, 1936; gelatin silver print (Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr., Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork172753). Fig. 6: “Along the old Silk Road to Europe. East Gate, Hao Tien. ‘Do not divide Moslems and Chinese’” Photo by The Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr., Dong Men, Haodian, Gansu, 1936; gelatin silver print (Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr., Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork172753).
Fig. 7: “Into Ningsia [sic] Province. Mosque at Kuan Ch’iao P’u, Kansu.” Photo by The Rev. Claude L., Pickens, Jr., 1936; gelatin silver print (Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr. Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork172809). Fig. 7: “Into Ningsia [sic] Province. Mosque at Kuan Ch’iao P’u, Kansu.” Photo by The Rev. Claude L., Pickens, Jr., 1936; gelatin silver print (Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr. Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork172809).

The Library digitized the Pickens photos, created a finding aid to his massive collection of rare Chinese Muslim texts and posters, and created a website that links to the photographs and the finding aid (http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/harvard-yenching/collections/pickens/index.cfm).

Another Harvard library website (http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/harvard-yenching/collections/morrison/) is devoted to Hedda Hammer Morrison, a trained German photographer who worked in China from 1933 to 1946 and in Hong Kong from 1946 to 1947 before retiring to Australia. She was married to Alastair Morrison, a son of George Ernest Morrison, known as “Morrison of Peking,” who was a medical doctor, China correspondent for the Times of London, advisor to Chinese President Yuan Shih-k’ai, and bibliophile. Through the efforts of Alonso, Hedda Morrison bequeathed her life’s work, along with her copyright, to Harvard. Morrison created 28 presentation albums of what she felt were her best China images, printed by herself. She used the albums to sell copies of individual prints or assembled albums. Those albums were the focus of the Harvard library’s first Library Digital Initiative grant (1999–2001). The collection includes the nearly 5000 prints that were digitized and another 10,000 or so negatives, most without prints. A current project, suggested by Dr. Claire Roberts of Australia, is scanning the unprinted negatives and flipping them into positives. In the process, many images not known to be in the collection are coming to light, including one of Chiang Kai-shek and Madam Chiang reviewing the troops of the Guomindang, and another of Japanese military officials signing the surrender at the end of World War II in Nanking (see Claire Roberts’ curatorial project in this issue of the TAP Review). Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong photos also have been digitized and a selection of them was published in Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong: Photographs & Impressions 1946–47 (Hong Kong: Hongkong Conservation Photography Foundation; Cambridge, MA: Harvard-Yenching Library, 2005) and was also exhibited in 2005 at the museum of the University of Hong Kong. Some of the photographs are on permanent exhibition in the Hong Kong Musuem of History and the Hong Kong Maritime Museum (Figs. 8 & 9).

Fig. 8: “Procession of Buddhist nuns playing musical instruments [devised title],” at Cui feng si, photo by Hedda Morrison, Beijing, 1933–1946; gelatin silver print (Hedda Morrison Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork85587). Fig. 8: “Procession of Buddhist nuns playing musical instruments [devised title],” at Cui feng si, photo by Hedda Morrison, Beijing, 1933–1946; gelatin silver print (Hedda Morrison Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork85587).
Fig. 9: “Young boy minds his siblings, Central District, Hong Kong Island [devised title],” photo by Hedda Morrison, 1946–47; gelatin silver process on resin-coated paper (Hedda Morrison Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork351326). Fig. 9: “Young boy minds his siblings, Central District, Hong Kong Island [devised title],” photo by Hedda Morrison, 1946–47; gelatin silver process on resin-coated paper (Hedda Morrison Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork351326).

An inventory of the tens of thousands of original photographs in the Harvard-Yenching Library is being compiled and will be the basis for entries in Harvard Library’s online catalog later in 2012, thereby making known the Library’s holdings of visual images of East Asia. Some of the other highlights in the collection are hand-tinted photos of Mongolia (Fig. 10), some 2000 glass lantern slides assembled for use in an introductory East Asian course taught by Edwin Reischauer, John King Fairbank, and Albert Craig (some slides are originals but others were copied from publications); photos of the funeral of China’s Empress Dowager Cixi contained in an album given to the Library by Sandra Matthews; photographs of Western soldiers during the relief of the foreign legations in Tientsin (Tianjing) during the Boxer Rebellion; hand-tinted photos (mostly commercial ones for purchase by tourists) of Japan from the Stillman collection; and a collection of stereocards of Japan.

Fig. 10: “Scenes in the Valley of the Lost Tribe,” photos by John Freeman; hand-tinted images in album (John Freeman Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; all images in the album are viewable at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL:2220292). Fig. 10: “Scenes in the Valley of the Lost Tribe,” photos by John Freeman; hand-tinted images in album (John Freeman Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; all images in the album are viewable at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL:2220292).

More recent acquisitions include a small collection of late-19th century images made by an American missionary in Fuzhou (all copiously labeled); an album of snapshots and small-sized studio portraits made during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), which was acquired from a book dealer in London; a wedding portrait of Chiang Kai-shek and Mayling Soong, inscribed to Prof. Arthur Holcombe, Chair of Harvard’s Government Department (Fig. 11); and several collections documenting the lives of Westerners in Shanghai in the 1920s.

Fig. 11: Wedding portrait of Mayling [Mei-ling] Soong and Chiang Kai-shek; photo by Chung Hwa Studio, Shanghai, 1927. Inscribed to Arthur Holcombe (Arthur Holcombe Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library). Fig. 11: Wedding portrait of Mayling [Mei-ling] Soong and Chiang Kai-shek; photo by Chung Hwa Studio, Shanghai, 1927. Inscribed to Arthur Holcombe (Arthur Holcombe Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library).

Harvard’s Fine Arts Library holds an immense collection of photographs, many of them of China and Japan. The bulk of the Japan photographs are part of the large E. G. Stillman collection of pamphlets, photographs and other Japan-related materials that in the aggregate form a very important but largely unknown resource. Stillman, a Harvard graduate, had an intense interest in anything Japanese, which is expressed in his collection of hand-tinted photographs, dispersed among several local collections, and an important collection of brochures published in Japan. A description of the current project to catalog and digitize the photographs reads, “The Early Photography of Japan project integrates conservation, cataloging, and digital imaging to create a virtual collection of 35 albums containing nearly 2,000 photographs from Widener Library, the Fine Arts Library, and Harvard-Yenching Library...the albums include many hand-colored albumen prints taken by pioneering and influential photographers such as Felice Beato, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, Kusakabe Kimbei, and Tamamura Kozaburo. They document the early history of commercial photography in Japan and reflect traditional Japanese culture before the dramatic transformation brought about by modernization and Western influence during the Meiji period. In addition to the Stillman albums, the project also includes photograph albums from other donors and a ten-volume publication containing original artwork and photographs, Brinkley’s Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese.” Those digitized to date can be viewed at http://via.lib.harvard.edu/via/deliver/deepLinkResults?kw1=E.G.%20Stillman%20Japanese%20Collection&index1=Anywhere

The Fine Arts Library also holds many large photographic study prints of Asian sites and subjects formerly in the collection of the library of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

A recent (2012) acquisition jointly funded by the Harvard-Yenching Library and the Fine Arts Library contains some 1000 glass slides and several movies of Asia. They were discovered in a basement on Cape Cod and purchased by the libraries. The full content of the collection, which was assembled by an American specialist on Chinese jade who taught courses on China, has not yet been ascertained.

Baker Library of the Harvard Business School collects records of American companies, among which are the records of Augustine Heard & Co., which operated in China from 1840 to 1875. The collection includes a number of photographs, some of which have been featured in exhibitions in its Baker Library, including one of photographs of tea production in China in the 19th century (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/2868.html) (Fig. 12) and an album of thirty-three photographs of the Central Raw Silk Association of Japan in the 1930s.

Fig. 12: “Eight Men Working on Tea Production,” ca. 1885. Tea Industry Photograph Collection, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University. Fig. 12: “Eight Men Working on Tea Production,” ca. 1885. Tea Industry Photograph Collection, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University.

Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum’s collections include several hundred photographs taken by Ernest Henry Wilson, Joseph Rock, and others on expeditions to China to acquire plant specimens for the Arboretum. A selection of those photos are featured in the Arboretum’s website “South Central China and Tibet: Hotspots of Diversity” (http://arboretum.harvard.edu/library/image-collection/south-central-china-and-tibet-hotspot-of-diversity/) (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13: “Tibetan Lama in elaborate headdress and embroidered robes [devised title].” Photo by Joseph Rock, Gansu, 1925; gelatin silver print (Joseph Rock Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork123569). Fig. 13: “Tibetan Lama in elaborate headdress and embroidered robes [devised title].” Photo by Joseph Rock, Gansu, 1925; gelatin silver print (Joseph Rock Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library; olvwork123569).

The Peabody Museum at Harvard holds, inter alia, the China photographs of Janet Wulsin. Selections of those images have been published in Mabel Cabot’s Vanished Kingdoms: a Woman Explorer in Tibet, China & Mongolia 1921–1925 (New York: Aperture, 2003). Mabel Cabot is Janet Wulsin’s daughter by her second husband. Other Peabody Museum photographs of China and those of the Harvard-Yenching Library, were highlighted in “Camera Sinica: China Photographs in the Harvard-Yenching Library and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology,” by Raymond Lum and Rubie Watson, in Treasures of the Yenching (Cambridge, MA: Harvard-Yenching Library, 2003), pp. 285–315. Japanese hand-colored photo prints comprise the Baron Raimond von Stillfried collection in the museum (http://140.247.195.10/col/shortDisplay.cfm?StartRow=1).

The records of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions [ABCFM] reside in Harvard’s Houghton Library, the repository of most of the university’s Western-language rare books. The ABCFM papers include a large array of photographs sent to the ABCFM headquarters by missionaries in the field. They constitute a resource that has been barely tapped by researchers. Access to the photographs is limited and available only onsite by appointment.

When all of the vast visual resources held by Harvard will become available online depends on developments in staffing levels, realigned priorities, gain or loss of expertise, and, of course, adequate funding for cataloging and digitization.


Raymond Lum is Librarian for Western Languages and curator of historical photographs in the Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University.