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
London Missionary Society (Council for World Mission)
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.
Methodist Missionary Society
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. The MMS operated overseas Districts in the Caribbean, Europe, West Africa, Southern Africa, Central Africa, Kenya, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma (Myanmar) and China. In the early 1970s, during a phase of reorganisation throughout the Methodist Church, the MMS became the Overseas Division of the Methodist Church, marking a shift from overseas missions to ‘World Church Partnerships' between autonomous Churches. The responsibilities of the Overseas Division were transferred to the World Church Office in 1996.
The MMS archive includes minutes, correspondence, personal papers and visual material. They detail the history of the organisation, its activities, as well as the regions and communities with whom missionaries interacted and worked.
Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee
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.
China Inland Mission (Overseas Missionary Fellowship)
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.
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: missionary library collections