The missionary archive is vast and scattered. Missionaries were prolific writers, and the libraries of universities across the country hold collections of numerous mission organisations’ newsletters, personal papers and official records. Until recently, one of the best online resources for locating missionary material has been the Mundus Gateway (www.mundus.ac.uk) – a database of missionary archives and their locations in the UK. As one of a flood of recent digitisation projects, Adam Matthew Digital’s Church Missionary Society (CMS) Periodicals is a game-changing addition to the field: an ambitious new online resource which makes available searchable, digitised versions of both major and minor CMS periodicals from the early nineteenth century to the twenty first.
To review this resource, I used it to research a woman missionary I had encountered in the physical CMS archive at the University of Birmingham: the Westfield College graduate Katharine Tristram. In the archive, finding material on missionary women’s experiences had been challenging, as official records rarely mentioned women until late in the nineteenth century and finding aids reflected this lacuna. Personal papers proved to be the most fruitful source, and among Tristram’s personal papers I found an intriguing article, cut from a CMS publication, the Gleaner, which featured Tristram as ‘their’ missionary for the year, and promised to keep readers informed about her work in Japan. However, the CMS publications were held in other libraries and the task of trawling through copies of the Gleaner would have been disproportionately time-consuming. Until now.
CMS Periodicals enabled me to search the CMS publications and download any article that mentioned Katharine Tristram anywhere in the text. I learnt that she was the daughter of Canon Tristram of Durham and that her sister was a fundraiser for the CMS. Mentions of Tristram in more contemporary CMS journal articles (the resource includes periodicals from 1804 to 2009) revealed that, while she is almost invisible in mission scholarship, she is significant in the mission movement’s own historiology.
Of course, the CMS Periodicals is just that: the periodicals. Adam Matthew did not attempt to digitise either the official or personal records of the CMS, and therefore the resource does not replace the physical archive or solve its problems. However, it is a great achievement to fully digitise the 35 selected periodicals – including publications from medical auxiliaries, the Church Zenana Mission and native churches – and one which has the potential to radically change scholarship in this area. Adam Matthew Digital are right to claim that the periodicals offer ‘a unique perspective on global history and cultural encounters’. As well as being able to find articles on particular subjects, scholars can analyse how activities were being reported by the missionary press, and read articles in context. Analysing periodical texts in context, in the way their readers experienced them, has been a growing concern among literary scholars, and this facility allows us to emulate this methodology in mission history.
In addition to providing access to periodicals, the resource includes some valuable supplementary features. These include: a collection of short biographies of the missionaries referenced in the periodicals; critical essays commissioned from experts on the themes highlighted by the resource; an interactive chronology tool; image galleries; and an interactive map tool.
These features, and the cross-cutting themes under which the material is broadly organised, provide a good reflection of how missions are studied today. A field that was traditionally studied as theological or denominational history, is now populated by historians of medicine, education, indigenous populations, globalisation, women and the family, and even literary scholars of travel writing and religious publishing.
The biographies and essays are true supplements to the archive in that they demonstrate how women missionaries are now a prominent topic of research and recover the lesser-known stories of early women in the mission: missionary wives. The very first missionary biography (by virtue of alphabetical order) is Mary Ann Aldersey (1797-1868), while one of the featured essays, by Emily Manktelow, is on ‘Gender and the Family’. Manktelow has published widely on this subject, arguing that the domestic experience of mission is as important to study as official mission history, because, for nineteenth-century missionaries, the personal and private became the professional, public action of mission (Manktelow 2013, 2-13).
Events concerning women and families in mission history can also be isolated using the interactive chronology, which is especially useful for teaching, as it can be used to create a printable timeline of events, chosen by time period and theme. Themes can also be combined, for example, Women and Families events might be displayed alongside those of Health and Medicine. The image gallery is similarly a rich resource for teachers and researchers alike.
A couple of aspects of CMS Periodicals could be developed further. As many of the supplementary features make clear, the mission movement was a network of families, and the biographies section could perhaps do more to map these connections. Likewise, though there is an ‘interactive’ map, this currently functions merely as another way to search for documents by location. Even the resource’s collection of maps, from the general periodicals and the 1896 CMS Missionary Atlas, do not connect directly with the map tool. Given recent innovations in digital mapping, more could be done with this tool to visualise the development of missions across the globe.
Generally, however, this resource does an admirable job of enabling researchers to locate documents and images from the archives while not divorcing them entirely from their original contexts, and this, combined with the additional scholarly context supplied by supplementary features makes CMS Periodicals an excellent resource for research and teaching.
Emily Manktelow. Missionary Families: Race, Gender and Generation on the Spiritual Frontier (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013).
Angharad Eyre (Queen Mary, University of London)
British Association for Victorian Studies, December 2016