NARA Bureau of foreign and domestic commerce (RG151)

During my last visit to NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) in Washington D.C. — in fact the facility located at College Park, Maryland —I had planned to re-visit the Consular Trade Report series. I may write later on my most recent findings in this series, but today I wish to point to another extremely valuable collection.

Thanks to the advice and precise indications provided by Cécile Armand (post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University), I “visited” the RG 151 series. It is made up of the reports and documents produced by the Bureau of foreign and domestic commerce, an agency that existed between 1912 and 1953. It included four units: Office of International Trade, Office of Business Economics, Office of Business and Defense Services, ad Office of Field Services. I was not able to ascertain which office posted officials abroad (commercial attaché), but the American representatives in China conducted numerous surveys on various aspects of business, including field work during which they took numerous photographs in various parts of China. One of the qualities of these photographs is that they were sent as part of the reports, usually mounted on cardboard with indications on place (not always in precise terms), date (usually precise), activity and topic.

Altogether, this represents hundreds of pictures by practical-minded and business-oriented American officials that cover topics rarely recorded by photographs (although there is of course some overlap with pictures seen elsewhere). Yet these commercial attaché were interested in understanding how commercial networks operated, how the transportation system worked, how American goods circulated in China and of course how to promote the sale of U.S. products in China. They focus on very practical aspects of economic life throughout China (see below)

Very few scholars have used this collection of photographs, and probably nobody in the China field. I explored it with increasing curiosity and excitement. I believe I have collected all that could be found on Shanghai (distributed in various topical folders), but also on various aspects of economic activity in China, which I am currently uploading and sharing Virtual Shanghai’s sister web platforms, and especially with Cécile Armand’s MadSpace platform.