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Sir Robert Kennaway Douglas and his contemporaries

Yu-Ying Brown


SIR Robert Kennaway Douglas (1838-1913) was the first Keeper of the British Museum's new Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts when it was created in 1892. Despite his fame as the compiler of the first published catalogues of the Museum's Chinese as well as Japanese collections, memories of the man himself soon faded in the Department he had served so well. When in the 1980s, Barry Bloomfield, then Director of Collection Development in overall charge of the renamed Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books, requested a copy of Douglas's photograph for the 'portrait gallery' of Keepers he was assembling in his office, none could be found. On my mentioning this to a former colleague, Kenji Makita, who was researching a book about distinguished members of the Museum staff, he pointed out that Douglas was present, sitting on the extreme right of the front row, in a group photograph of senior staff taken circa 1885 (fig. i). This photograph has been reproduced in P. R. Harris's A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973.' This monumental new book also sheds fresh light on Douglas's career in the British Museum. Some of the anecdotes it recounts on the inner workings and organization of the old British Museum have a familiar resonance to the ears of us, the curators of the new British Library. It is surely timely, therefore, to reassess Douglas's career and achievement.

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