by Amber Clark and Jess Haddock
The Lincoln University library, in collaboration with the history department and a handful of history students, is in the process of producing an exciting new exhibition. It will contain historic material from a missionary school for the blind that was set up in Peking, China, in 1921. The first Superintendent of the school was Reverend W. Canner, who grew up in Lincoln and was trained as a missionary at Burgh le Marsh from 1903-1906. Canner then travelled to Northern China, helping and educating blind Chinese children to be self-sufficient. His grandchildren have recently contacted the university and offered primary source material for us to copy for future use by students and to display within a small exhibit on the ground floor of the library. We have met with the family and been able to examine first-hand the material provided. This included documentation, photographs, annual reports and artefacts such as a dolls house that had been hand crafted by the blind students themselves. The artefacts are truly fascinating and there was so much material to examine that we have had to arrange another meeting in order to determine which specific items will be chosen to display. Handling this unique primary source material was a great experience for us and demonstrates the diversity of the Lincoln history degree. History is so much more than essay writing: it gives you the chance to examine a whole range of material and to offer your own personal analysis that other historians may not yet have thought of.
Our initial meeting with the family was both intriguing and daunting, being our first introduction to the practical application of historical research as opposed to experiencing history through the research of other historians. Being presented with a selection of incredible artefacts, which had been immaculately preserved and coveted by Reverend Canner’s descendants, was initially terrifying. Seeing their collection in person really opened our eyes to how incredibly fragile they were and it took a little encouragement from our much more experienced lecturer and historian, Cairo Hickman, before we could be persuaded to handle the items. Having the opportunity to be a part of a project like this and to build on the things we had learned in our second year ‘China and the West’ module, was an amazing reminder of why we decided to study history in the first place; it awakens an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn everything you can about the people who created these objects. Much of our initial meeting involved listening to the stories which the family members had to tell about their grandfather and deciding which artefacts might be suitable for display in a way which would be both eye-catching and would appropriately convey the history they represent. This project will no doubt be the first step towards further historical research of this nature and will not only be an amazing and exciting opportunity for us, but also for future history students at Lincoln University who will have the opportunity to see this display and even contribute towards projects of their own during their time here.
This material ties in with the ‘China and the West’ module, taught by Cairo Hickman in second year and is a testament to the geographical reach of local Lincolnshire history. For us, it has served as an intriguing insight into the way in which digging into the history of your own area can reveal stories you never would have imagined you would find. Cairo is retiring this year and we would like to thank her for her amazing teaching and for really engaging us in the history of China; she will be greatly missed by all at the university and the passion she has shared with us for Chinese history will stay with us for a long time to come. The display is set to be completed in the beginning of the next academic year and will be found in the display case kept on the ground floor of the library. We encourage all returning and new students to seize the opportunity to have a look at artefacts which have never been publicly displayed in this manner before, and to become acquainted with Reverend W. Canner’s amazing story.