International Mission Photography Archive

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The historical images in the International Mission Photography Archive come from Protestant and Catholic missionary collections held at a number of centers in Britain, Europe, and North America. The photographs record missionary endeavors and reflect the missionaries’ experience of communities and environments abroad. There are examples of the physical influence the mission presence brought –seen in churches and their surrounding settlements-- as well as examples of the cultural impact of mission teaching and Western influence, including schools, hospitals, training programs, Christian practices, and Western technology and fashions. The pictures document indigenous peoples' responses to missions and the history of indigenous churches which are often now a major force in society. They also offer views of traditional culture, landscapes, cities, and towns before and in the early stages of modern development.

The same cataloging procedures were used for all of the collections. Depending on the research goals, therefore, a person who uses the web site will be able to search through the images provided by one, several, or all of the collections, structuring the search and sorting the results according to the categories, descriptors, and keywords under which the images were cataloged as they were added to the database. Not all pictures will be accompanied by the same depth of documentation, but the goal is to include an original caption, the photographer’s name, and the time, place, occasion, and subject of the picture. Any other information that is available, including textual descriptions, has also been incorporated, making it possible to employ more refined descriptive and thematic searches. Although the language of the website is English, some descriptive information on the photographs is entered in the original language, so that searching on Norwegian or German terms can also yield useful results.

The project has been supported by grants from the Getty Grant Program, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications program, the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Preservation and Access, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities.


The proliferation of Christian missionary societies devoted to overseas evangelism was one of the most important social movements of the nineteenth century. By the middle of that century, many national Protestant denominations had established such organizations. In the Catholic Church, old mission orders were re-invigorated and many new ones founded, again with a strongly national reference. By World War I, male and female missionaries were an established presence wherever Western influence had penetrated, sometimes as participants, sometimes as antagonists, and almost always as alert observers of the global political and economic transformations of the period. For reasons that were both practical and religious, missionaries were dedicated correspondents, diarists, and record keepers. The surviving text-based archives of these communications have long been used by scholars to reconstruct missionaries’ actions, trace the evolution of their thinking, map the matrix of their relations with local societies, and assess their impact as agents of Western contact with the rest of the world. The archives are also known as often fascinating sources for indigenous political, social and economic history in the areas where the missionaries were active.

With the advent of photography, missionaries also began to compile a visual record of their activities. From the 1880s, when factory-made negatives became available and cameras became lighter and easier to use, the numbers of missionary photographers and photographs grew exponentially. As a result, most missionary societies, or the libraries that hold their archives, have accumulations of pictures in various formats, ranging from a few musty, uncataloged boxes or albums at one end of the scale to carefully preserved, well organized, and professionally cataloged collections numbering in the hundreds of thousands of images at the other. How many photographs exist is unknown, but in the aggregate there are certainly millions, representing an important potential scholarly resource.

We have not undertaken to catalog and digitize that mass of photographs in anything like its entirety. Instead, we have concentrated on selections of images from just seven centers, chosen because of the importance and quality of their collections and the skill of their professional archive staffs. Given our limited resources, we have made the strategic decision to stress depth over breadth in our selections and therefore have not attempted to capture all of a mission’s geographic range in our database. Instead we have tended to concentrate on the strongest and best-organized parts of the collections, where we have attempted to include the "thickest" series of pictures, such as those produced by a particularly prolific and skilled photographer or identified with a particularly important place, cast of characters, or set of historical events. The sampling that resulted from this process is strongest on parts of Africa, Madagascar, India, China, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesian Kalimantan. Pictures from Japan, Korea, and the Philippines are presently being added, but many other regions of the world are not yet represented. It must be noted, however, that the architecture of IMPA allows, indeed assumes, expansion, and in time the geographic and chronological representation in the database will increase, as will the denominational and confessional variety of the missions included.


The Moravian Church (Die Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine), established in 1722, was the first Protestant missionary society to send its agents to West and South Africa. Because of its location in what was formerly East Germany, the historically important collection in the Unitätsarchiv in Herrnhut has hitherto received little attention from those interested in Africa. Our selection of photographs focuses on four missionary fields in Africa: 'Nyasa' (in what is now southern Tanzania), 'Nyamwezi' (in west central Tanzania), 'South Africa West' (the area just outside Cape Town) and 'South Africa East' (the area between East London and Durban). In most cases the photographs date from the period 1890-1940, but a few from South Africa go back as far as the late 1860s.

The Leipzig Mission (Evangelisch-Lutherisches Missionswerk Leipzig), founded in 1836, was active principally in East Africa, India and (more recently) Papua-New Guinea. The archive in Leipzig possesses some 20,000 historical photos, including about 3,500 from Northeast Tanzania and - prior to the First World War - the adjacent part of Kenya. (In ethnic terms these are the Chagga, Pare, Kamba, Maasai and Arusha regions.). For IMPA we have concentrated on photographs that were selected for publication and on albums left by the missionaries Wilhelm Guth (who worked mainly in Pare, 1913-17 and 1927-38) and Leonhard Blumer (active mainly in Arusha, 1912-13 and 1924-26). In addition we have included a few colored postcards published by the Mission shortly before 1914.

Founded in 2001, mission21, Basel, Switzerland, is made up of four previously independent missionary societies among which the Basel Mission is the largest. The main areas of activity of the Basel Mission, from its inception in 1815 until the mid-twentieth century, were Ghana, Cameroon, India, China, and Kalimantan. Its archives contain historical photographs, written records, printed and hand-drawn maps and building plans. The materials in these archives are important resources for research in many academic fields. Of a total of 75,000 images taken before 1950, 28,400 have been digitally accessible since 2002 and have now been updated with new information and have been integrated into the IMPA site. Links with the archives' digitized maps and catalogues are planned for the near future.

The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, Inc. (Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers) was established in 1911 at Maryknoll, New York and sent its first missionaries to China in 1918. The photographic archive, established to support The Field Afar magazine and later Maryknoll, contains between 1 and 1.5 million prints, lantern slides, glass negatives, and slides that capture mission activities in 38 different countries. The Maryknoll Mission Archives was established as a collaborative venture in 1990 to care for the records and images of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters and the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. For IMPA, we selected images from China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, most of them from the period 1912-1945.

The photograph collection of the Mission Archives at the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger is mainly related to the work of the Norwegian Mission Society (formerly known as Norwegian Missionary Society), founded in Stavanger in 1842. For current information about NMS see Overall, the collection comprises approximately 100,000 items from ca.1870-1950, including photograph albums, glass plate negatives, and lantern slides. Among the regions represented are South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal), Madagascar, China (Hunan, Hong Kong, Taiwan), Cameroon (Adamawa Province), Japan, Ethiopia, and Norway. Digitized images in this collection currently include pictures from Madagascar and South Africa.

The selection from the 25,000 prints held in the missionary society collections at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is a representative sample of images from Africa, China, the Caribbean, Madagascar, South India, and Papua-New Guinea. The photographs come from the collections of the Council for World Mission (formerly the London Missionary Society), the Methodist Missionary Society, and the China Inland Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship). Some of the photographs were taken by missionary workers in the field, such as the lay mission worker, John Parrett (1841-1918) who served as a printer for the London Missionary Society in Madagascar from 1862 to 1885 and Rev. Harry Moore Dauncey (1863-1932) who served with the L.M.S. in Papua New Guinea, mainly in the Delena district, for forty years from 1888 to 1928. There are also images collected by missionaries whilst overseas, such as the collection of fine albumen prints of China in the early 1860s taken by an unknown Russian photographer.

The Yale University Divinity School Day Missions Library is a world-renowned collection documenting world Christianity and the history of the missionary movement. Selections from its archival and manuscript collections for the IMPA project have focused on photographs of China missions and photographic postcards of mission work throughout the world. The photographs from China, dating from the late 19th century to 1950, document medical, educational, and evangelistic endeavors, as well as famine relief, rural reconstruction, athletics, and other aspects of the lives and work of primarily Protestant American and British missionaries, and their Chinese students and colleagues. Photographs from the personal papers of missionaries, who served under a variety of agencies in numerous provinces, provide a broad-based view of the spectrum of Protestant mission work in China. Photographs from the archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia focus on the work of the thirteen colleges and universities founded by Protestant mission agencies in China. The photographic postcards document both Catholic and Protestant mission work primarily in Africa and the Pacific Islands.

Founded in 1971, the Défap-Service protestant de mission in Paris has inherited the library and archive of the Société des missions évangéliques de Paris (SMEP), known in English as the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS). The Society had been active between 1822 and 1971 in  the following regions of the world:  the Pacific Ocean: New Caledonia, Tahiti; Africa: Cameroon, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Togo, Zambia, Southern Africa, Lesotho, Madagascar. It sent its first missionaries to Southern Africa in 1829. The library serves a wide public: researchers in various disciplines, former missionaries or their descendants, representatives of overseas churches, journalists, as well as culturally oriented institutions etc. The library collection comprises 21,000 monographs and leaflets, 1,300 titles of archived periodicals. The archive includes paper archives—correspondence, reports, candidates’ papers, private diaries, original linguistic research, published and unpublished manuscripts, etc. The iconographic archive consists of some 20,000 photographs taken over a period of one century (1860-1970), a collection of post cards issued by several missionary societies, maps, posters, illustrated tracts, films. 18,000 images have been digitized in 2008/2009 of which 6,500 (Madagascar, Cameroon and Gabon) have now been integrated into the IMPA site.

The National Library of Scotland, Scottish Missions' Church of Scotland World Mission Council archive documents overseas missionary activity from the late 18th century to the present day. It includes the surviving records of some of the earliest Scottish missionary societies, and of Scottish Presbyterian churches that have reunited within the present Church of Scotland since 1929. In addition to a rich photographic element, the archive includes correspondence files, minute books, reports and diaries. Together with the personal papers of a number of individual missionaries, these collections offer a comprehensive record of the development of Scottish Presbyterian mission, and are an important source for researching Scotland’s influence in the many parts of the world to which missionaries travelled. Research potential includes the fields of education, language study and translation, medical work, and women’s studies

The individual items in these collections cover a wide range in terms of the level at which they have been cataloged and the accessibility of metadata, that is, information about the content and circumstances under which an image was captured (photographer, time and place, persons and events depicted), and accompanying textual information (such as captions, descriptions, and other associated documents). We have used a common data-entry template based on Dublin Core for all of the collections, assuring that essentially the same categories of data are entered in the same format for each photograph. Inevitably, however, the database contains some photographs with only the minimally acceptable cataloging information as well as photographs for which a great deal of associated information is available. We have included pictures in the less well-documented category because we know from experience that scholars often bring their own special knowledge to the assessment of a photograph. It is better for an interesting picture to be available for scrutiny, even if it is less than optimally documented, on the assumption that viewers might be able to contribute information that we can consider for incorporation into the electronic record.

The work that went into the creation of this website was shared by:

  • Giao Baker, University of Southern California
  • Lisa Cole, School of Oriental and African Studies
  • Barbara Frey-Näf, mission21/Basel Mission
  • Matt Gainer, University of Southern California
  • Emilie Gangnat Département évangélique français d'action apostolique (Défap)
  • Sally Harrower, National Library of Scotland
  • Nils Kristian Høimyr, Mission Archives, School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger, Norway
  • Paul Jenkins, University of Basel
  • Samantha Johnson, School of Oriental and African Studies
  • Adam Jones, University of Leipzig
  • Judith Kreitzer, Maryknoll Mission Archives
  • Claire-Lise Lombard Département évangélique français d'action apostolique (Défap)
  • Allison Metcalfe, National Library of Scotland
  • Jon Miller, University of Southern California
  • Joyce Ouchida, University of Southern California
  • Ellen Pierce, Maryknoll Mission Archives
  • Zahid Rafique, University of Southern California
  • Tim Sato, University of Southern California
  • Rosemary Seton, School of Oriental and African Studies
  • R. Wayne Shoaf, University of Southern California
  • Martha Lund Smalley, Yale University Divinity School
  • Brian Stanley, University of Edinburgh
  • Tim Stanton, University of Southern California
  • Gustav Steensland, Mission Archives, School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger, Norway
  • Baghi Subramanyam, University of Southern California
  • Guy Thomas, mission21/Basel Mission
  • Mike Walsh, Maryknoll Mission Archives

中外文化交流史研究简史 研究文章


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