Pictures of a politician.
August 18, 2009 5:40 PM   Subscribe

What should I do with personal family photos of Notable Historical Personage, my Chinese great-grandfather?

Before her death my Chinese grandmother compiled around 25 photo albums documenting her life (1926-2002). Among these are numerous photos of her father, a minor political figure of 20th-century Chinese history. He was a prominent journalist and one of the leaders of the Kuomingtang, personally and politically close to both Sun_Yat-Sen and Chiang_Kai-Shek. Just for anonymity's sake I'd prefer not to link to his Wikipedia article, but here's a measure of his general notability: there are several English-language dissertations and academic books that discuss political role, his writings, and his (fairly colorful) life history, and he tends to merit medium-length entries in encyclopedias of 20th-century China. He gets a lot more biographical attention in Taiwan but with my dismal Chinese I'm unable to read any of that stuff.

I've run into lots of photos of him in academic publications, mostly "official" portraits and pictures of groups of politicians. My grandmother's albums contain informal pictures of him lounging around at home with his wife and children (circa 1930s). Come to think of it, while I've seen informal and/or domestic photos of other Chinese politicians, I've never seen any of him. I assume that researchers get their informal photos from the families themselves, and they just never tracked down my grandmother, since she came over to the US in the 60s. So my question is: would historians have any interest in these pictures of Minor Personage of Nationalist China? Is there some academic journal I could submit these things to? Should I just set up a little website? I think the pictures are noteworthy and shouldn't just be shut up in my grandmother's albums. Advice from the hivemind, academic historians especially, welcomed.
posted by ms.codex to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I vote for Flickr. Put them online, tag and describe them well, and contact some biographers or historians that they exist. I'm sure someone will be extremely interested in them.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:48 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

i bet your local or state historical society would at least have an idea of who would be interested in them
posted by Think_Long at 5:53 PM on August 18, 2009

Most historians I know would be giddy to receive an email from the descendant of the subject of their dissertation/monograph -- and over the moon to be offered access to such a treasure trove of material. If you can readily identify a couple of historians who are still teaching/writing (or whose books you particularly liked, or whatever criterion you choose), it's worth contacting them directly. They would likely be willing to make a research trip to view the source material and make copies in their preferred format, although I'm sure they'd love to see scans of them ahead of time.
Basically, I think people who know who your great grandfather is and who have written about him would be so happy to know this material exists and be offered a chance at it that there's not really a wrong way to go about offering it to them.
posted by katemonster at 5:53 PM on August 18, 2009

I think all of the above sound great. By all means set up a website or use something like Flickr - and then you can also contact relevant authors and historical societies and provide the link for them. (And if your grandmother had any interesting documents in addition to photos, you could host them someplace like Scribd.)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:12 PM on August 18, 2009

Speaking as an academic, albeit not in this field, I can guarantee that much squeeing would occur.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:17 PM on August 18, 2009

Have you considered donating them to a museum or Archive? I'm sure you want to keep them in the family, but that is another option.

If you want someone to help you make a web site, look around and see if you can find a library science student looking for an Internship. It wouldn't have to be paid, and creating something like that would be a feather in their cap.
posted by KathMuse at 6:32 PM on August 18, 2009

Put them on Flickr, with proper descriptions and tags so that they can be easily found. That way, they are accessible to anyone who is searching for them, not just a couple of isolated historians.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:06 PM on August 18, 2009

Be very careful about donating them to a museum or archive for several reasons: 1: if you do, you or your family/descendants may not be able to handle or view them ever again. 2: where you put them may make them inaccessible to interested people 3: libraries, archives and museums are closing and selling/dispersing their collections due to financial difficulties. They seem to have no qualms about destroying or relocating items that were donated to them in good faith.

Make copies. Share the copies. Find ways to post them on the internet. Learn to store the originals in an archivally-correct way.
posted by clarkstonian at 9:10 PM on August 18, 2009

I agree with both katemonster and clarkstonian: Let a historian or two know so you can share the photos with them, but don't donate them to a museum unless you just want them out of your life.
posted by languagehat at 6:11 AM on August 19, 2009

Agree with those who say get scans up online - people will be delighted and there will be much interest. This is a site I've particularly enjoyed (of a more prominent Nationalist-era political figure) that was AFAIK set up by his descendants now in the US to defend his legacy.
posted by Abiezer at 12:57 PM on August 19, 2009

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