Lacy LeGrand Little papers

Written by Sarah Newhouse on January 18th, 2011

Unknown size: small.

With the start of 2011, PACSCL has taken on a new group of processors to work in area repositories.  For our training project, our group (Garrett Boos, Bruce Nielson, and Sarah Newhouse) arrange a collection of photographs and papers belonging to Lacy LeGrand Little, a Presbyterian missionary to China in the early 20th century.  This collection is housed at the Presbyterian Historical Society, along with many other collections from missionaries serving during the same time period and in various countries.

Unknown size: small.

Most of the photographs are of unidentified groups and individuals, which presented some problems in arranging and using minimal processing (especially for those of us using minimal processing for the first time). We wanted to label folders with names when possible, so searching for names and dates became a process that took more time than we intended. We ended up dividing the photographs into formal and informal (posed portraits and snapshots), and within those categories, into photos of individuals, pairs, groups and locations.  Within those groups, we had categories of identified and unidentified photos.  As always, with minimal processing, time was our main concern, but we were also concerned with balancing our allotted time with the desire to create the most informative finding aid possible.

Unknown size: small.

Among the unidentified photos were several of a man whom we were pretty sure was Lacy Little, but lacking any identifying information, we hesitated to assign his name to those photos.  After we had processed the collection and created the finding aid, our project archivist, Courtney Smerz, mentioned that she had seen an identified photo of Lacy Little in another collection being processed during training.  Thus began a frantic, but brief hunt thorugh the collections we had pulled for processing, trying to find this labeled photograph that we knew was in a photo album or scrapbook with black pages. The photo was found, we identified our man, and everyone was happy.

Unknown size: small.

The primary value of this collection is in the snapshot it provides of life in the 1920s and 1930s China, especially the life of a tourist or missionary.  Many of the photos are of unidentified groups and views, including a series of photos of classes from the school run by the Jiangyin Mission.  Some of these, however, have a list of all the students on the back, but no additional information, such as year, instructor or location.  The most interesting photos were two long, rolled photographs of landscapes.  One was the view of a harbor, with small fishing boats mingling with imposing battleships.

This collection fits into a larger narrative and documentary history about American missionaries moving into the rest of the world, but it is surprisingly short on quantitative data and the details of a missionary’s life. The photographs, however, provide tiny windows into Little’s life and travels, giving us a sense of what was interesting to a missionary encountering China through Western eyes.

For permission to use images of items from the Little Papers, please contact the Presbyterian Historical Society.

 

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