Sunday, 12 June 2016

Exploring Johnston's Archives (related to gardens of China) in Needham Institute part 1

The entire Johnston archive on tables of Needham Institute

During the week of 23-28th of May, I had the great opportunity to go through the papers of R.S. Johnston in Needham Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Who was R.S.Johnston? 
Late R. Stewart Johnston was part of the department of Architecture at the University of Nottingham. In 1991 he published Scholar gardens of China: a study and analysis of the spatial design of the Chinese private garden. Thus he become the first Western author (that I know of) to mention the gardens of Lingnan1 in an English language publication.

Librarian of Needham Institute, John Moffett, received Johnston's papers on behalf of Needham Institute from Johnston's widow. The archive contained a wealth of information on gardens of China that Johnston had systematically preserved throughout his research. Some twenty years later John Moffett generously opened this archive to me. This opportunity was sparkled by a conversation about Johnston's book in May 2015 when I underlined the fact that finding photos of Lingnan gardens was difficult, and John Moffett said that Johnston's archives were likely to contain such documents. Spoiler: I was not disappointed!

Johnston’s archive, occupying approximately 1.5m x 2m of archival shelves, had been well labelled by Johnston himself but not yet catalogued. It was therefore the occasion for me to both dig information for my thesis and contribute to the cataloguing as I went through the boxes. The exploration was well worth the effort as I discovered many black and white photographs of gardens in China, most likely dated from the 1980s (I am still working on datation): a few were taken before some of the 'rough' renovations that erased some interesting characteristics of gardens later on.

There are many interesting aspects to this archive, as I already tweeted about on @GardensOfChina; but I will underline some of the most unique parts in a few blog posts, hoping others will come to study them in more detail. 

One of the most pleasant part was to go through all the originals of the maps and drawings included in his publications: some of these were actually typed & photos and captions glued to paper as this was the case before computers changed our way of submitting manuscripts.

1.  岭南 Region located 'to the south of the five ridges' usually understood as either Guangdong province or Guangxi + Guangdong.

Illustrations for Scholar gardens of China


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