Reblogged from the Centre for Public History, Queen’s University Belfast.
Photographs Between Two Worlds: the Hart Photographic Collection
In 1854, a nineteen-year-old from Portadown set sail for Hong Kong. His name was Robert Hart, and he was a recent graduate of the newly established Queen’s College Belfast. He had been nominated by Queen’s to join Britain’s Chinese Consular Service as a trainee interpreter, though he had no connections in China, and spoke no Chinese.
The son of a distillery manager, Hart had no experience of politics or foreign affairs either. On his way east, he stopped off in London, where the genteel diplomat Edmund Hammond gave the teenage Hart some words of advice for life in China: ‘Never venture into the sun without an umbrella, and never go snipe shooting without top boots pulled up well to the thighs.’1
On his arrival in Hong Kong, Hart reached a typically phlegmatic assessment of his circumstances. ‘This climate – the diseases it produces – may lay me in the dust,’ he told his diary. But, he consoled himself, ‘shall I not rest as well beneath the rocky soil of this "Happy Valley" as though I lay in Dunmoral Churchyard, mine mingling with the dust of my forefathers?’2
Robert Hart c. 1867. MS 15/6/1/B2.
All images courtesy of Special Collections, Queen’s University Belfast. All rights reserved.
Despite this inauspicious start to his career, in 1863 Hart became Inspector-General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs aged only twenty-eight, a post he went on to hold for forty-five years until 1908. In a generally indulgent biography, Hart’s niece Juliet Bredon noted her uncle was once described as ‘a small, insignificant Irishman’.3 Few of his contemporaries would have recognised that assessment, however.
By 1900, the customs service over which Hart presided had a staff of almost twenty thousand and raised the bulk of Qing imperial revenue, and his influence extended far beyond the Customs. Hart transformed China’s infrastructure, establishing a postal service and a network of lighthouses, and helped to shape the foreign relations of late imperial China. Hart exerted such wide-ranging influence that the historian John Fairbank called him one-third of the ‘trinity in power’ in China in the later nineteenth century.4
On Monday 25 September 2017, the Hart Project hosted a visit from the China Customs Museum in Beijing.
The visitors included the museum’s Deputy Director General, Fan Kun, and also included the Director of the Exhibitions Department, Dr Li Haiyong.
They were accompanied by Consul Li Changhua of the Chinese consulate in Belfast.
Aglaia De Angeli and Emma Reisz, China’s Imperial Eye: Photographs of Qing China and Tibet from the Sir Robert Hart Collection, Queen’s University Belfast (Belfast, 2017)
New Lenses on China Colloquium:
A gathering of leading scholars in the field of the history of photography in China
Dr Marine Cabos
Cross-posted from Photography of China
Between 23 and 24 June 2017, Queen’s University in Belfast (Northern Ireland) planned an academic conference gathering international scholars from various disciplines ranging from history, art history, history of photography, to sinology. Entitled New Lenses on China: Photography in Modern Chinese History and Historiography, this conference’s successive papers reflected on the impact of photographic sources on our understanding of Chinese history, while assessing the state of the field and considering its future trajectories.
On this occasion, Queen’s University Special Collection also displayed a selection of photographs of late imperial China from the Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911) Collection outside the auditorium where the conference took place. This collection includes several thousand photographs, mostly of China around 1900, along with portraits of Hart and his friends, acquaintances and colleagues.
A fully funded PhD studentship at Queen’s Belfast is available starting 1 January 2018 on “Chinese Customs Houses and Sino-Western Encounter in the Unequal Treaty Era”.
Deadline: Friday 11 August 2017 (amended 18 July).
This studentship is within SPaRK, the Queen’s doctoral training programme funded by the EU Marie Skłodowska Curie scheme. All tuition fees will be paid (including for non-EU students) and students will receive a stipend of £25,576.45 per annum and access to a generous training programme. More information.
- satisfy the Marie Skłodowska Curie mobility rule, which usually means they must have resided outside the UK for at least two out of the last three years
- be in the first four years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers
- not yet have been awarded a doctoral degree.
More on eligibility.
Applicants should submit (all by 11 August 2017):
1) a Queen’s PhD application following the additional SPaRK instructions – see Step 1
2) a 3-minute video (sent to email@example.com) – see Step 2
3) an email introducing themselves and describing their interest in the project, along with a sample of recent academic work in English, directly to Emma Reisz (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- The project: email Dr Emma Reisz, Lead Project Supervisor
- Remuneration: contact Ms Aveen Lavery, EC Research Finance Manager
- Eligibility: contact Richard Walker, Research and Enterprise Directorate
New Lenses on China: Photography in Modern Chinese History and Historiography
Wiles Colloquium 2017
Queen’s University Belfast, 23-24 June 2017
Chinese history is experiencing a ‘photographic turn’. Research about and making use of historical Chinese photography are fast-moving and rapidly expanding areas of interest for academics. At the same time, historical photography is increasingly being made available to a wide general audience in China and beyond, opening up new possibilities.
New Lenses on China will consider the impact of photographic sources on our understanding of Chinese history. This colloquium brings together leading scholars of Chinese history and of photography to reflect on the impact of photography on Chinese history and historiography, to assess the state of the field, and to consider its future trajectories.
Registration: Free (charge for refreshments)
Keynote lectures and panels (provisional)
Robert Bickers (Bristol): ‘Plenty and want’
Elizabeth Edwards (De Montfort): ‘Photographs and the Business of ‘Doing History’: some thoughts on method and historiography’
Christian Henriot (Aix-Marseille): ‘Seeing through death in modern Shanghai: A visual encounter’
Nick Pearce (Glasgow): ‘New viewpoints, new knowledge: John Dudgeon, John Thomson
and photographic practice in nineteenth-century China’
- The imperial eye
– Memory, society and forgotten visualities
– Photography, the state and the nation: beyond the textual archive
– Photography, knowledge and dissemination
Robert Hart was fascinated by photography and communications.
So it is only fitting that you can now find Sir Robert Hart on Flickr.
The Flickr selection includes this delightful 1907 snap of Robert Hart with his band, along with over a hundred other photographs from late 19th and early 20th century China.
These are just a small selection from the full Robert Hart photography collection, which includes over 2,000 images.