Tuesday, July 8, 2008

5,000 Historic Photographs of China Debut on the Web

The Duke University Libraries has launched a digital collection of about 5,000 photographs shot primarily in China between 1917 and 1932 by Sidney Gamble, grandson of Proctor and Gamble co-founder James Gamble. The searchable collection is online at library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gamble/.

Gamble, a sociologist, China scholar and avid amateur photographer, traveled extensively in China from Liaoning province in the northeast to Guangdong province in the south and to the western edge of Sichuan province along the border of Tibet. The web publication of the Sidney D. Gamble Photograph Collection makes all of his China photographs publicly accessible for the first time.

On four trips to China, Gamble photographed the natural and architectural landscapes as well as scenes of rural and urban life. He also documented events such as the flood of 1918 in Tianjin, student demonstrations in 1919 in Beijing and Sun Yat-sen’s state funeral in 1925.

“Because Gamble was not a professional photographer, but rather a social scientist conversant in Chinese, his photographs of Chinese people engaged in the daily activities of life are like no other photographs of the period,” said Nancy Jervis, an anthropologist and China specialist who has been visiting China for three decades. “They are a stark reminder of what has been gained and lost in the years since.”

Gamble used the China photographs to illustrate the first published social survey of Peking (Beijing), which he completed in 1921, and three economic surveys he later authored. However, most of his China images were not seen by the public during his lifetime. The photographs came to light when Gamble’s daughter, the late Catherine Curran, discovered the collection at the family home in 1984, 15 years after her father’s death.

Curran created the Sidney D. Gamble China Studies Foundation in 1986 to preserve the images and to make them available for exhibit. Since then, about 250 of the pictures have been displayed in multiple venues in North America and Asia, including the China Institute in New York City and the Museum of History in Beijing.

Curran, who died in 2007, gave the entire collection to Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library in 2006.

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