Guide to the Papers of Otto Van der Sprenkel


MS 3050

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Otto Van der Sprenkel
Papers of Otto Van der Sprenkel
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 3050
1.4 metres (10 boxes)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Content

The major portion of the collection comprises the draft for Otto van der Sprenkel's unpublished bibliography 'A selective and annotated bibliography of Chinese history, thought and society to 1965 in Western languages (excluding Russian)'. Also included are personal letters, cards and photographs belonging to Van der Sprenkel and his wife Pamela, papers relating to Chinese historiography and sinology conferences, notes by Pamela van der Sprenkel on Sir Joseph Banks, and genealogical papers pertaining to the family of the prominent architect John Kirkpatrick (1856-1923), Pamela's great-uncle.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Otto Van der Sprenkel, National Library of Australia, MS 3050, [series/file/item number]'.


The material forming Series 1 of the collection was presented to the Library by Otto van der Sprenkel in 1972. Several additions to the papers, which were donated in separate instalments by Dawn Richardson and Stephan Williams in 2001, are contained in Series 2.

Offprints of articles on various aspects of sinology, which were collected by Otto van der Sprenkel, form part of the Chinese Collection at OC 9163 5083. A portrait of the sinologist, thought to have been painted in approximately 1946, is housed in the Pictorial Collection at PIC R10533 LOC.

In 1972 a duplicate set of the drafts for 'A selective and annotated bibliography of Chinese history, thought and society to 1965 in Western languages (excluding Russian)' was also held by the Oriental Studies Library of the Australian National University.


The original organisation of the papers in both Series 1 and 2 has largely been preserved in their transfer to the Library. The only exception to this arrangement is the volume Chinese History I, which was donated by Stephan Williams as part of papers in Series 2, but which has been extracted to file at the end of the main sequence of the bibliography at Series 1/file 21.

Biographical Note

Otto Berkelbach van der Sprenkel was born in Bussum, Holland in 1906, into a distinguished academic family. Raised and educated in England, he studied at the London School of Economics, where he formed part of the 'nursery' of the Fabian Society. He was awarded the prestigious Graham Wallas Prize, and after graduating with a first class honours degree in social economics, continued at the School as a research fellow until 1930.

Between 1931 and 1933 Van der Sprenkel lectured in political science at the University of Toronto, after which time he returned to England where he lectured on behalf of the Workers' Educational Association. This kindled his interest in the Far East, and in 1943 he began to study Chinese whilst lecturing part-time in history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, The University of London. A visiting professorship to Nankai University in Tientsin in 1947 saw him witness the communist victory in 1949, leading to his co-authorship of New China: three views (1950).

Van der Sprenkel joined the former Canberra University College in 1956 as Senior Lecturer. He taught until his retirement in 1971, by then Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Civilization, Australian National University. During this period Van der Sprenkel was closely associated with the National Library of Australia, advising on acquisitions in the area of Asian studies, and donating several rare volumes, including the Chinese historical work Hs├╝tzuchiht'ungchienkang mu (1476).

Professor van der Sprenkel died in Canberra on 24 April 1978, survived by his wife Pamela, who died there on 9 July 2001.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Draft work in progress 'A selective and annotated bibliography of Chinese history, thought and society to 1965 in Western languages (excluding Russian)'

In 1965, Van der Sprenkel commenced work on a comprehensive bibliography of important writings on China which had been published in Western languages other than Russian up until that date. Although materials written in Chinese or Japanese were deemed out of scope for the project, any known translations of such works in Western languages were included in the review. The entries were divided into general subject classifications, and provided bibliographic descriptions and abstracts for all titles.

Whilst compiling the bibliography Professor Van der Sprenkel spent much time at the National Library, where he and his research assistants were allocated a special study room. He was still absorbed in the compilation task until shortly before his death in 1978, and regrettably plans for the posthumous publication of the bibliography did not eventuate.

An additional typed extract from the draft bibliography forms part of the papers in Series 2/File 5.

Ch'ing I (File 1) - Box 1

Ch'ing II (File 2) - Box 1

Ch'ing III (File 3) - Box 1

Geography: General I (File 4) - Box 2

Geography: General II (File 5) - Box 2

Geography: Travel I (File 6) - Box 3

Geography: Travel II (File 7) - Box 3

History to 1644 I (File 8) - Box 4

People's Republic I (File 9) - Box 4

Philosophy I (File 10) - Box 4

Religion: Christianity I (File 11) - Box 5

Republic I (File 12) - Box 5

Republic II (File 13) - Box 5

Sinology I (File 14) - Box 6

Religion: Chinese I (File 15) - Box 6

Religion: Buddhism I (File 16) - Box 6

Social: General I (File 17) - Box 7

Social: Economics I (File 18) - Box 7

Social: Institutions I (File 19) - Box 8

Social: Economics II (File 20) - Box 8

Chinese History I, together with notes relating to Michelet's Histoire de France (File 21) - Box 8

Series 2. Papers relating to Otto and Pamela van der Sprenkel, c. 1892-2000

This series is chiefly comprised of personal papers which belonged to Otto and Pamela van der Sprenkel. There is a diary compiled by Otto which his wife encouraged him to keep whilst recuperating from a heart attack in 1965, some letters from friends and family members, and a quantity of photographs, mostly snapshots. Also of interest are notebooks and materials relating to Pamela's research on Sir Joseph Banks, and a scrapbook containing cuttings and other items regarding the Kirkpatrick family, of which the prominent architect John Kirkpatrick (1856-1923) was a member.

Diary of Otto van der Sprenkel, 1965 (File 1) - Box 9

Notes and correspondence, c. 1975, together with an invitation for John Kirkpatrick (1912) (File 2) - Box 9

Notes on Sir Joseph Banks by Pamela van der Sprenkel (File 3-4) - Box 9

Correspondence and photographs, c. 1974-1992, together with typed extract from Van der Sprenkel's draft bibliography, and letter to John Kirkpatrick (1893) (File 5) - Box 9

ExLibris Otto Berkelbach van der Sprenkel [picture]
Pamel van der Sprenkel seated in armchair reading, 1977 [picture]

Photographs, c. 1930-1979 (File 6) - Box 9

Otto van der Sprenkel, 1966 [picture]
Pamel van der Sprenkel, 1966 [picture]
Portrait of Otto van der Sprenkel mounted on wall, 197u [picture]
Memorial plate of Otto van der Sprenkel, 197u [picture]

A study of the postal system of rural Spain, 1850-1950 by David J. Henry (1997) (File 7) - Box 9

Cards, correspondence and photographs, c. 1963-2000 including letters from Eve Buscombe (File 8) - Box 9

Papers relating to the Workshop on Chinese History, 1500-1800, 13-14 August 1977 (File 9) - Box 10

Kirkpatrick family scrapbook, c. 1892-1972, begun by Janet Kirkpatrick, great-aunt of Pamela van der Sprenkel and sister of John Kirkpatrick (1856-1923), architect (File 10) - Box 10

Typescript 'Personnel and personalities in North China in the early Mongol period' by Igor de Rachewiltz; notes on Chinese historiography and research cards by Otto van der Sprenkel (File 11) - Box 10

Papers of XI Junior Sinologues Conference (Conference of Sinological Studies), August 3-9, 1958 (File 12) - Box 10