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Pickens Digital Collection Enhanced

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A page from the biographical dictionary compiled by Rev. Claude L. Pickens, which
was recently digitized by Harvard College Library.

March 2, 2010 – More than two dozen notebooks from the Rev. Claude L. Pickens, Jr. Collection on Muslims in China that comprise a one-of-a-kind biographical dictionary of Muslims in China during the 1920s and 1930s have been digitized and are now available for study by scholars world-wide.

Pickens, an American Episcopal priest who worked for more than two decades as a missionary to Muslims in China, assembled the collection, which includes hundreds of books, pamphlets, broadsides, photographs and other material, much of which is unique, said Ray Lum, Librarian for the Western Languages Collection at Harvard-Yenching Library. The notebooks are just the latest part of the collection to be digitized – more than 1,000 photos taken by Pickens were digitized as part of an earlier project, and are now available through VIA, Harvard’s catalog of visual resources.

“This collection is unique,” Lum said. “Many scholars come from China to study it, because they can’t find these materials in their country. The photos are important because, in many instances, the buildings and inscriptions they record have been lost due to wars or the Cultural Revolution. Some of the print materials in the collection may exist elsewhere, but in the aggregate, this is the only collection of this magnitude, and Pickens’ notebooks are the only ones of their kind.”

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From 1927 until 1950, Pickens worked with Muslims throughout China and the Philippines. In addition to his missionary work, he collected hundreds of books which make up the core of the collection. Additional material on Muslims was added by Pickens’ father-in-law and a family friend, both of whom worked as missionaries to Muslims in the Middle East.

It was during his missionary work that Pickens began compiling a biographical dictionary on the leading Chinese Muslim scholars and clerics of the era. The never-published dictionary filled more than two dozen notebooks with hand-written notes, as well as newspaper clippings and other materials.

“This material is of great interest, not only because of the paramount importance of Islamic studies right now, but because a lot of graduate students and scholars who are studying Chinese Muslims can’t get access to it in China,” Lum said.

Political tensions surrounding Chinese Muslims have, in recent years, reduced access to the materials held in China. In response, Lum said, many scholars have turned to collections like those held by Harvard-Yenching.

“By digitizing and making this material accessible online,” Lum said, “scholars worldwide will be able to conduct their research without traveling to Cambridge, let alone China.”