Happy birthday to us!

Our copystand in action: this is where it happens

It’s our birthday! Fourteen years ago today, Historical Photographs of China welcomed its first and longest-standing employee, Project Manager Jamie Carstairs. A professional photographer, sometime cheerful bookshop assistant (so he told us), TEFL teacher and graduate of the postgraduate Photojournalism programme at the University of Wales, Jamie also had experience of working with collections of historic photographs.

Since then, we – he, largely – have digitized some 50,000 different prints, negatives, and album pages, drawn from 154 collections, most of them lent to us by families with historic ties to China. They have come from Bristol, from across the British Isles, continental Europe, Canada, Australia, India, the United States, and of course China.

A collection in the raw: the Banister family’s, Bishop and all.

We now have 21,304 images online (and on the third iteration of our platform), most recently the first samples of an album largely focusing on Fuzhou in the late 1860s and 1870s, which we will tell you all about soon. We have organised exhibitions in Bristol, Bath, Durham, and London, Nanjing, Hong Kong, Chongqing, Beijing, and in Spain. We can be found on BBC Sounds, and on film.

The project has always run on a shoestring. Sometimes we have had two of them, once, you could say, we had four shoestrings, but mostly we shuffle along with the one. Support has come from the British Academy, Swire Charitable Trusts, AHRC, the University of Bristol, Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, and the Worldwide University Network. Do feel free to add your name to this list and don’t forget to send us a cheque: we won’t be offended, no really, we won’t be.

It is roughly 30 years since I got the first glimpse of what became the project, on a trip to talk to a British man who had worked in inter-war China. In an apartment in Bourne End, gorgeously decorated with items he had brought back from China, he reminisced and, from time to time, to reinforce a point, reached over to a bookshelf and pulled out an album of photographs. These he showed me and so here we are, thirty years on from that, and 14 years on from Jamie’s arrival in 13 Woodland Road.

So thank you for your support, for using the platform and all the words of encouragement we have received over the years, and thanks especially to: Shannon Smith, Alejandro Acin, Rosanne Jacks, Grania Pickard, Helena Lopes, and the Research IT team at Bristol, who have all worked on the project, not forgetting Andrew Hillier, Yuqun Gao, Emily Griffin, Monika Lucas; to Christian Henriot and Gérald Foliot, who provided our first platform and long-term support; Chang Chih-yun, and the team supporting our Shanghai Jiaotong University-hosted mirror site; to the University of Bristol’s Special Collections team and Public Engagement squad, and to librarians, deans, fellow-historians and many others — Deidre Wildy! Caroline Kimbell! — who have supported us in different ways over the years.

Jamie in Suzhou in 2011

Ready for action at an outreach event at Bristol City Museum

The green boxes shown here in the University of Bristol Library Special Collections contain materials donated permanently for archiving.

We used to work in one of these, but are now housed in the University’s Arts & Social Sciences Library

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