Celebrating Thirty Years of Duke’s East Asian Collections

This blog post was compiled from contributions by current (Luo Zhou, Miree Ku, Matthew Hayes) and past (Kristina Troost) East Asian Studies Librarians at Duke University.

From November 16, 2021 to April 14, 2022, Duke University Library will host an exhibit “Celebrating Thirty Years of East Asian Collections” in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery. The physical exhibit will be accompanied by a virtual counterpart, which will be published on the library’s Exhibits page. The exhibit opening will take place on Friday afternoon, November 19, with a special event organized by the Duke University Asian/Pacific Studies Institute and the Duke University Libraries.

“Celebrating Thirty Years of East Asian Collections” in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library

This exhibit is part of a commemoration of the founding of Duke’s East Asian Collection in 1990.  Collecting on East Asia in both Perkins and Rubenstein libraries predates the founding of the East Asian Collection, but it became a distinct focus in 1990 with the hiring of the first Japanese Studies Librarian, Kristina Troost, and then, in 1996, a Chinese Studies Librarian and finally in 2007, a Korean Studies Librarian.  The collection in Perkins has gradually grown from 20,000 to over 200,000 volumes in Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s collection for East Asia also predates the founding of the East Asian Collection.  It has built on some areas of strength (e.g. history of medicine), but as the program has grown in recent years, it has added some new areas such as historical maps and Zen in America.  Materials from the seventeenth century to the present illuminate the cultures and societies in East Asia.  Some items, such as the personal papers of missionaries, businessmen, and diplomats, shed light on westerners’ understanding of East Asian cultures; more recent acquisitions (e.g. documentary photography, postcards, and other visual material) produced by East Asians themselves have been equally valuable for our understanding of this region.

Japanese collection

Ogata, Gekkō 尾形月耕, The Manners and Customs of Ladies (Fujin Fūzokuzukushi, 婦人風俗尽) (Tokyo, [1898]). Source: Edward James Parrish Papers.

Duke has the largest Japanese collection south of the Library of Congress in DC. Its strengths reflect the program’s focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It has strong collections in modern art history, Buddhism, women’s and labor history, Japan’s colonial history, modern literature, manga and anime.  Some themes cross disciplines such as the colonial experience, disaster, including earthquakes, and LGBTQ issues.

The historical collection in Duke’s rare book and manuscript library includes reports from missionaries, early British diplomats to Japan, East India company papers, diaries and letters from merchants and seamen, as well as items in such collections as the Stereographic card and postcard collections and materials related to advertising in the Hartman Center.

The Rubenstein library also has strong collections in military history and the history of medicine.  For Japan, it has the papers of General Robert L. Eichelberger (1886-1961), who commanded all ground occupation troops in Japan (1945-1948). The sword in this exhibit was given to Eichelberger during the Occupation.

Titlepage of Johann Adam Kulmus’ Kaitai shinsho 解體新書 (1774). Source: Historical Anatomies on the Web (National Library of Medicine)

In addition to such standard Tokugawa medical texts as Kaitai shinsho (解體新書), Duke has 63 Edo-era medical manuscript volumes of medical lectures transcribed by students, which are included in this exhibit;  the papers of a Methodist missionary, Mary McMillan, which detail her services to the hibakusha (被爆者), the survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as her peace activism; and a collection of materials related to the effects of the atomic bombing.  This includes the papers of Hachiya Michihiko and Dr. Warner Wells, surgical consultant to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, as well as the Leon S. Adler papers, which document the destruction of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa. The collection of photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki belonged to Dr. Wells.

Duke has also collected missionary papers and materials related to religion because of the Divinity School.  Duke holds the papers of Isaac Leroy Shaver (1893-1984), a Methodist clergyman and missionary to Japan from the 1920s to the 1960s.  But this interest in religion is also going in new directions; in response to programmatic changes in the department of Religious Studies, the special collections library has begun to build a strong collection on Zen in America, acquiring the Philip Kapleau papers and some documentary recordings of D.T. Suzuki, as well as the Reginald Horace Blyth and Norman Waddell papers.

In keeping with Rubenstein’s focus on visual materials, Duke has built a strong collection in photography, acquiring many iconic works.  In recent years, Duke has acquired several photographic collections, notably those taken by Sidney Gamble (c. 1917-1932), William Shockley (c. 1987-1905), Carl Mydans (c. 1941-1952) and Kusakabe Kimbei (c. 1885-1890), as well as Japanese photography of China during WWII.  It has also acquired other visual materials such as postcards and sugoroku (双六) game boards and materials relating to the Japanese student movement in the 1960s (Anpo tōsō 安保闘争), examples of which are included in the upcoming exhibit.

Chinese collection

“Knife Sharpener” from S. V. Constant, Calls, sounds and merchandise of the Peking street peddlers (1936).

Duke’s Chinese collection can trace back to the donation of the tobacco industrialist and philanthropist James Augustus Thomas (1862-1940), who left his papers, a collection of books mostly on China in English, some photographs and other artifacts – such as Chinese vases, robes, furniture, and even lotus shoes for bound feet – to the Duke libraries. The Chinese collection at Duke began to grow rapidly as a result of the expansion of Chinese studies program at Duke in the mid-1990s.  Duke began collecting Chinese materials that UNC was not collecting in depth, especially popular culture and contemporary social science. As the program has grown and changed, Duke has been acquiring materials in visual culture. Photograph collections, notably those taken by Sidney Gamble (c. 1917-1932), William Shockley (c. 1987-1905) and Lucy Calhoun (1886-1973), as well as photographic albums produced by the Japanese in 1920s and 1930s China, have all been acquired in the past two decades. Duke also has a small teaching collection of pre-modern Chinese medicine.

Manmo Ruins of old Summer Palace. Manmō inga shū.滿蒙印画輯 ([Dalian, China]: [between 1924 and 1944?])

More recently, the collection has focused on materials about the first thirty years of People’s Republic of China. Duke acquired the “Memory Project,” a collection of oral histories from survivors of the Great Famine that devastated rural China between 1958 and 1962, by documentary filmmaker, Wu Wenguang, and his team. The Chinese studies librarian has collected 350 titles anti-American pictorial books and Radio Free Asia’s Journal to the Soul complete program. Many of these are housed in The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library and some have been digitized and published including the Gamble Photographs and the Memory Project collection.

Korean collection

“A Ride on a ‘Jiggy’” from Missionary photograph album (Seoul, Korea, 1921)

Korean studies at Duke is the only program and collection on this East Asian region in the entire Southeastern United States.  In 1994, the Carl Wesley Judy Korean Library Fund was established with the purpose of the acquisition of and/or access to Korean materials. Rev. Carl Wesley Judy, who graduated from the Divinity School of Duke University in 1943, made great contributions to medical missionary work in Korea through his entire life.  He was joined in this endeavor by his wife, Margaret Brannan Judy, and his parent-in-law, Rev. Lyman Coy Brannan, who also dedicated his entire life for the missionary work in Korea from 1910. The upcoming Rubenstein Library exhibit intends to show unique items related with American missionaries’ works in Korea during the colonial period. Just like the past 100 years of devotion and passion of missionaries who served for Korea, Duke’s Korean program and collection will continue to grow with the passion and deep commitment to our future Korean Studies researchers and students.

Korean village street scene. Colonial Korean Postcard collection (1893-2010s)

Duke’s East Asian collection is curated by subject librarians from the International and Area Studies department.  For more information about the collection that forms the basis of the  upcoming exhibit in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery, please contact Luo Zhou, Chinese Studies Librarian, Miree Ku, Korean Studies Librarian, and Matthew Hayes, Ph.D., Japanese Studies and Asian American Studies Librarian.

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