An ambitious Internet project is bringing to light forgotten images from Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world during the period when missionaries were active. The International Mission Photography Archive contains more than 60,000 historic photographs that show cultural interaction – through missionaries – with the West. In some cases, the pictures provide surprising insights.
Sociologist Jon Miller coordinates the project and says that in many communities, missionaries took more pictures than anyone else.
“They were the ones who were permanently anchored in communities rather than just in administrative centers,” he said. “They were the ones who were itinerating around and so they had much better contact. They were only rivaled by the merchants, who moved around as much as they did, but were not nearly as interested in documenting and covering their movements. ”
The online archive contains photographs taken by missionaries from the 1860s until World War II.
Twelve major archives in the United States and Europe are sharing their pictures for the project. The Internet archive is administered by the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the Digital Library at the University of Southern California.
Miller says the photographs vary in subject matter and quality. He says some are visually stunning and others, while technically crude, reveal surprises about life in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world where missionaries were active.
Miller says thousands of photographs still need to be digitized, catalogued and posted to the online archive. He says millions of other mission photographs may be still stored in church offices or people’s attics. That was the case with Margaret Hollister, whose father and grandfather were Presbyterian missionaries in China and lived through turbulent times there.
Digitization: "Online Archive Preserves Images from Christian Missions in Africa, Asia"
Filed by May 1, 2011on