The National Museum of Taiwan History recently received a donation of almost 600 rare books on the history of Taiwan from American professor Harold M. Otness (歐獻文) and his wife Chang Min-hui (張敏慧). Published between 1704 and 2003, the collection is considered a complete and systematic record of Taiwan between the 18 and 21 century from a Western perspective.
Otness, a professor of Library Science who retired from Southern Oregon State College, met a girl from Taiwan when he was studying at the University of Portland. He has since formed a close relationship with Taiwan and later published a book titled "One Thousand Westerners in Taiwan, to 1945.” He has visited Taiwan many times and done research and teaching at such academic institutes as Academia Sinica and the National Taiwan University.
Professor Otness started to collect Taiwan-related historical data in 1980 when he found a first edition of "An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa,” a book written by George Psalmanazar and published in 1704, on a secondhand bookseller's catalog in New York. The historically famous fictitious book featuring fanciful tales of cannibalism and ritual sacrifice immediately caught his eye, thus propelling him to embark upon a journey of collecting Taiwan-related texts.
Within a quarter of a century, professor Otness amassed all kinds of books on Taiwan studies from 12 Western countries. In addition to a precious original copy of "The Island of Formosa, Past and Present” written by James W. Davidson and the inaugural issue of National Geography magazine, the content of his collection covers historical documents, academic journals, official reports, literature, research on post-war Taiwan, and even commentaries related to film director Ang Lee (李安).
The museum said the donated collection stands witness to the internationality of Taiwan's history. In the future, the museum will make these rare and commendable books available for public use, so that scholars and members of the general public can learn more about the history of Taiwan from different perspectives.
American professor Harold M. Otness and his wife Chang Min-hui are pictured on the left.
On the subject of George Psalmanazar and his pseudo-historical narrative, the University of Cambridge noted that: "This 1704 work, The History of Formosa, describes in great detail the culture, language and customs of the island nation of Formosa, modern-day Taiwan. The book was supposedly written by a native of Formosa who was brought to Europe by Jesuit missionaries, but all is not as it seems. The catch is that the author, who called himself 'George Psalmanazar', was actually a white, blond-haired Frenchman who had never left Europe. Every detail of Formosan life that the book describes is completely made up. Psalmanazar's hoax was so successful that to this day, we still don't know his real name. His fictional history was a best-seller and Psalmanazar soon became a favourite figure in London society, regaling nobles and university students alike with his fanciful tales of cannibalism and ritual sacrifice."