Science & Tech

New electronic tools reveal forgotten China

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Library Digital Initiative aims to make images accessible

German-born photographer Hedda Hammer Morrison (1908-1991) could often be seen bicycling through Peking with a Rolleiflex camera around her neck, capturing her times through her lens as both participant and observer. A simple way of life was rapidly changing in the 1930s and ’40s behind the walls of China’s Forbidden City. Morrison’s photographs of Peking provide a rare, detailed look into China’s past. Taken between 1933 and 1946, the collection documents the architecture, streetscapes, clothing, religious practices, and crafts that have all but disappeared from modern Beijing. Upon her death in 1991, Morrison bequeathed her collection to the Harvard-Yenching Library. Unfortunately, the Harvard-Yenching Library’s collection is fragile and uncataloged, making its contents unavailable to researchers, faculty, students, and the public. Few scholars have seen the collection, and many do not even know that it exists. In 1999, a library initiative to catalog, preserve and reformat these images into digital form began to make them accessible.