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James Claude Thomson and James C. Thomson Jr. Papers

Call Number: RG 24

Scope and Contents

James Claude Thomson was an ordained minister, missionary, scientist, and educator. He was Professor of chemistry and later Dean at the University of Nanking from 1917 to 1949. Although he began his career pioneering in the analysis and extraction of Chinese wood oil from the tung-oil nut, he began to feel a deep concern for the hungry and poorly nourished people of Asia. Mid-career, he sought the education and training needed to enter into the fields of public health and nutrition. During his long career as a medical nutrition expert and biochemist, he taught in universities and advised governments in China, Japan, Korea, and the Mideast. Serving as a nutrition consultant for the World Health Organization in the 1950s, he conducted major nutritional surveys of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. Though Thomson began his work at the University of Nanking in 1917, the bulk of this collection dates from after 1938.

This collection also contains documentation of the life of James C. Thomson, Jr. who was an educator, statesman, and journalist.

Series I, Correspondence, contains detailed letters written by J. C. Thomson to his wife and family during his separations from them in 1938-1941and 1949 in China, and later in the 1950s when he was on assignment in Iran and Pakistan. When evacuated from Nanking, Thomson went with the University of Nanking to Chengdu, West China and also spent time in Indochina during the war. Correspondence of Thomson written while in the United States primarily relates to travel and employment arrangements. There are several letters from Daniel Dye, whose papers are also held by the Yale Divinity Library (Record Group No. 22). Additional correspondence of Thomson from the period when he was at the University of Nanking is available in the Archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, YDL Record Group No. 11.

Series II, Papers, Reports and Speeches, primarily contains material written by Thomson on nutrition and health-related subjects. Series III, Collected Material, includes writings on similar subjects by others, as well as miscellaneous material relating to the Thomsons' travels, and an obituary of Thomson.

Series IV, Photographs, Series V, Slides, and Series VI, Films, contain high quality visual documentation of the areas where Thomson lived and worked. The photographs and slides are individually identified to a large exent. Video use copies of many of the films have been made and are located in the last box of the collection.

Two addendums added to the collection in 2003 and 2009 provide additional documentation of James Claude Thomson, and of his son James Claude Thomson, Jr.


  • 1917-2010


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Thomson family.


  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Papers, Reports and Speeches
  3. III. Collected Material
  4. IV. Photographs
  5. V. Slides
  6. VI. Films/Videos
  7. VII Addendum - 2003
  8. VIII Addendum - 2009, 2015


9.75 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The James Claude Thomson and James C. Thomson, Jr. Papers provide a visual and written record of James Claude Thomson's career as a biochemist, professor at the University of Nanking, and medical nutrition expert. The collection contains Thomson's private and professional correspondence, a record of his academic and research work, several copies of his nutritional surveys of Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, as well as the lectures and speeches he delivered during his long career as a professor. A highlight of the collection is the series of color slides of Iran, Afghanistan, China, Korea, and Japan, and notable film footage of China. Addenda to the original collection also document the life and work of James Claude Thomson's son, James Claude Thomson, Jr. (1931-2002), who was a statesman, historian, and journalist.

Biographical / Historical

Born in New York. Graduated from Rutgers University and New Brunswick Theological Seminary; received a Ph.D. from Columbia University, and an MPH from Johns Hopkins
Appointed to China by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Served as a professor of chemistry, department chairman, then10 years as Dean of the University of Nanking
Published "A study of Chinese wood oils; with special reference to the isolation and the characterization of isomeric eleostearic acids"
Held a Fulbright Professorship at the University of Tehran Medical College
Undertook nutritional survey of Iran
Director of Nutrition Research at the International Christian University in Tokyo
Served as a nutrition consultant for the World Health Organization in Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan
Professor of Nutrition at Yonsei University Medical College, Seoul, Korea
Died in Pennsylvania

Biographical / Historical

Born in Princeton, NJ, son of James C. and Margaret Thomson, Congregational missionaries to China who were in the U.S. temporarily. The family returned to Nanjing, where they were based until 1949. His siblings were Anne (Nancy), Sydney, and John.
B.A. from Yale University
B.A. from University of Cambridge, where he was Yale-Clare Fellow
M.A. from University of Cambridge
Ph.D. in history from Harvard University
Beginning work as aide to Chester Bowles in 1959, JCT, Jr. followed Bowles into the Kennedy administration, serving first as special assistant to the undersecretary of state (1961), then as special assistant to the president's special representative and advisor on African, Asian, and Latin American affairs (1961–63). Under the Johnson administration, Thomson served as special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs (1963–64), and from 1964 to 1966 he was the China specialist on the staff of the National Security Council. In 1966 he resigned in protest over the Vietnam War and returned to Harvard.
Taught at Harvard, published While China Faced West (Harvard University Press, 1969), worked with John K. Fairbank in the field of American-East Asian relations, wrote articles for Atlantic Monthly, etc.
Head of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard
Published Sentimental imperialists : the American experience in East Asia / James C. Thomson, Jr., Peter W. Stanley, John Curtis Perry ; foreword by John King Fairbank.
Professor of journalism, history, and international relations at Boston University

Processing Information

Place names were modernized in the description, with the name originally used in the collection material or in an older version of the finding aid in parenthesis: e.g. “Beijing (Peking)” or “Benin (Dahomey)”.

Guide to the James Claude Thomson and James C. Thomson Jr. Papers
Compiled by Dionis Macy Gauvin and Martha Lund Smalley
2002, 2003, 2009, 2015
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Divinity Library Repository

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