SOAS University of London

SOAS Library

Missionary Collections

SOAS holds the largest collection of Christian missionary archives in the UK; as well as personal papers of many individual missionaries. These collections span the 18th to 20th centuries and include a wealth of primary source material, such as correspondence, reports, minutes, journals, photographs and films.

Missionary archives are increasingly being used and appreciated by scholars from a variety of academic disciplines. The collections continue to offer a unique resource for the study of evangelism and the global spread of the Christian faith. However, because missionaries were often the first Europeans to live and work in many regions of Africa, Asia, and beyond, our missionary archives also contain:

  • Some of the earliest surviving English language accounts of these regions
  • Documentary and visual representations of the cultures, languages, and social lives of the communities in these regions
  • Evidence of the political, cultural, and economic interactions between Europeans and these regions
  • Sources for the history of education and history of medicine in these regions

Key Missionary Collections

London Missionary Society (Council for World Mission)

Khama III, Chief of the Bamangwato and Sir Albert Spicer, London Missionary Society Treasurer, in Serowe, Bechuanaland Protectorate [Botswana], 1907
Khama III, Chief of the Bamangwato and Sir Albert Spicer, London Missionary Society Treasurer, in Serowe, Bechuanaland Protectorate [Botswana], 1907

The London Missionary Society (LMS) was a protestant missionary society formed in England in 1795 'to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations'. Although broadly interdenominational in scope, the Society was largely Congregationalist in outlook and membership. The LMS operated missions to the South Seas, China and Madagascar, South and South East Asia, Southern and Central Africa and, to a lesser extent, in North America and the West Indies. 

The LMS archive is the largest and most heavily used collection at SOAS. As well as providing the earliest recorded histories of the many of the areas they served in, LMS missionaries were also responsible for creating other crucial documentary evidence for modern-day researchers, such as the first maps (including those by David Livingstone) and the first translations and dictionaries of these regions. 

Guide to the Council for World Mission/London Missionary Society Archive, 1764-1977

Catalogue for the Council for World Mission/London Missionary Society collection

Methodist Missionary Society

SOAS Library Archives: Oron Hospital
Sister Elizabeth Stead and nursing staff at Oron Hospital, Eastern Nigeria c.1940. MMSPA

The Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) was formed in 1932 from the merger of several different British Methodist missionary societies which had been operating from the late 18th century onwards. 

Catalogue for the Methodist Missionary Society

Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee 

Presbyterian Church of England missionaries and local clergy with the prefect of Quanzhou City, China, 1907
Presbyterian Church of England missionaries and local clergy with the prefect of Quanzhou City, China, 1907

The Presbyterian Church of England (PCE) Foreign Missions Committee was established in 1843 as one of the first committees of the reconstituted Presbyterian Church.

The first mission field for the PCE was Amoy in South Fukien [Xiamen], China (1850), and later in Formosa [Taiwan] (1865). Further PCE missions were established in Rajshahi, now part of Bangladesh (1862), and the Straits Settlements, now Singapore and Malaysia (1881).

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the PCE, along with other missionary societies, withdrew from China between 1949 and 1952. In 1972 the Presbyterian Church of England joined with the Congregational Church in England and Wales to form the United Reformed Church, which still retains ownership of the archives. 

Guide to the Presbyterian Church of England Archive

Catalogue for the Presbyterian Church of England collection

China Inland Mission (Overseas Missionary Fellowship)

SOAS Library Archives: Chefoo School
Staff and pupils at Chefoo School, 1908. CIMPA

One of the most active missionary organisations in China, the China Inland Mission (CIM) was an interdenominational Protestant missionary society founded in the UK by James Hudson Taylor in 1865. The first Mission was established at Hangchow, Chekiang in 1866.

The CIM was unconventional in its approach to missionary work compared with other missionary organisations of the period. This included the adoption of local dress by all its missionaries, and actively recruiting female missionaries to serve in their own right rather than simply as married companions to their husbands. The CIM established a school at Chefoo [Yantai], China, in 1880. Its aim was to provide an education for the children of missionaries and the business and diplomatic communities. 

Despite suffering heavy casualties during the Boxer Uprising (1898-1901), the CIM continued to grow and develop, reaching the peak of its activity in 1934 with 1,368 workers based at 364 stations throughout China. Thereafter war and revolution led to a decline in missionary numbers. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), missionaries remained at their station where they could, caring for refugees and organising welfare camps. Many were sent to Japanese internment camps in Shanghai and Yangchow.

The CIM began to withdraw its missionaries following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It was decided that the Mission should continue its work in the East and missionaries were sent to new fields in Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan (and later to Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong). Renamed the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in 1964, the organisation’s work retained a strong emphasis on evangelism, with support for literature programmes, medical services, linguistic work, student work and outreach. 

View the catalogue overview for the China Inland Mission

Missionary Libraries

SOAS holds the historic library collections of the London Missionary Society and the Methodist Missionary Society. These collections include many thousands of publications including rare and early works relating to the regions of the world in which the missionary organisations worked. Although the libraries were created to support missionary work and record mission history – they include, for example, published annual reports and missionary magazines - there is a also vast amount of non-missionary material, such as travelogues, linguistic material, regional histories and anthropological studies.

See more information the missionary library collections