For my BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership, I am working with the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The library is home to most of the special collections of the University of Manchester, which include an extensive Chinese collection.
This collection was recently found to contain an unexpected treasure, and there is much more that remains to be examined. I have begun by looking at the papers of Edward Harper Parker (1848-1926). Parker worked for over twenty years for the British consular service in China, and was also one of Britain’s foremost sinologists of the time. After retiring from the consular service, Parker devoted himself to researching and writing about China, and in 1901 became the first holder of a new chair in Chinese at the University of Manchester. I am working to produce a hand list of Parker’s papers, so that the scope of this collection can be better appreciated by researchers. Parker’s contributions to Chinese studies, which was then a young discipline in Britain, have been largely forgotten. But he wrote widely on a variety of topics, ranging from ancient history to contemporary affairs, and encompassing both the Chinese heartland and the peoples and nations on China’s borders. His papers are providing interesting insights into his working methods and interests, and to his role in advancing the understanding of China in Britain at the start of the twentieth century.
The John Rylands Library is also one of Manchester’s top visitor attractions. Many people come simply to view the beautiful historic reading room, but the library also runs a range of public exhibitions and events, showcasing items from its wide collections. During my three months at the library, I will also be working with the visitor engagement team to produce one such event. It will provide visitors with an exciting opportunity to view some items from the library’s Chinese collection, and will hopefully serve to spark a wider interest in the history and culture of China.