Latin American collections

Since January two students have been working at the Centre for Research Collections at the Main Library of the University of Edinburgh cataloguing the rich archives of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RBMU). Alice Fagan and Savannah Weiler are looking at the records of the RBMU in Latin America, especially in Peru and Argentina. They are working under the leadership and supervision of Kirsty Stewart, Scottish and University Collections archivist responsible for the Centre for the Study of World Christianity (CSWC) archives. The bulk of the material they are cataloguing consists of monthly magazines, annual reports, news bulletins, correspondence, minute books, reports, and photographs, in both printed and manuscript form. Funds for this project have been provided by the CSWC and the University, and their work will enhance the visibility of the archival collections and provide crucial information for future digitisation work.

The first impetus behind the RBMU was Henry Grattan Guinness (1835-1910), an Irish revivalist preacher and evangelist and grandson of Arthur Guinness, founder of the brewing empire. In 1873 Henry founded the East London Training Institute for Home and Foreign Missions, taking inspiration from faith missions like James Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission. The institute charged no fees from students and was to be run by faith alone, which lent a revivalist impetus to its endeavours but also generated its own financial troubles. The Regions Beyond magazine, created in 1878, publicised the actions and challenges of the Institute and gave news of missionaries around the world. Several evangelistic ventures sparked from the RBMU’s founders, students, and associates, such as the Livingstone Inland Mission and the Congo Balolo Mission that operated in Central Africa. In 1897 the Institute also took responsibility for the support of a group of students working in Peru and Argentina. Because of internal disagreements about the organisation of the mission and financial difficulties, these missions were handed over to the newly founded Evangelical Union of South America in 1911. Over the first decades of the twentieth century missionaries trained by the RBMU established new missionary centres in South America, such as the Peru Inland Mission, and were able to support themselves through educational and medical work.

Alice Fagan
Savannah Weiler

In the next few months, the students will publish some of their interesting archival findings in this blog. The posts illuminate the actions, ordeals, and challenges of missionaries, the intimate relationship they developed with the populations of Peru and Argentina, the medical and educational ventures undertaken, their idiosyncratic views on mission and civilisation, amongst other things. Alice Fagan is a third-year student in the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology. She is broadly interested in social history and material culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as museum and gender studies. In the past Alice took the course ‘History of Christianity as a World Religion’ in the School of Divinity, and now, looking at the RBMU records and the medical and educational actions of missionaries, is expanding her knowledge on the worldwide iterations of Christian religion. Savannah Weiler is a fourth-year student in the Fine Art programme at the Edinburgh College of Art. She has interests in art practice, photography, and old photographic techniques, as well as archival and translation work. Savannah is interested in the photographic records of the RBMU and missionary action in the 1960s and 70s, a period of intense historical transformations as well as political and social polarisation. Their blogs highlight the richness of the CSWC archival collections and the usefulness of missionary sources as tools of historical interpretation.

CSWC Collections Used in BBC Documentary

Viewers of the BBC’s Scots in China with Neil Oliver were treated to a few images from the CSWC’s archives. The images show Scottish medical missionary Dugald Christie, Chinese medical assistants, and some unidentified workers wearing masks to protect them from the plague. Christie was born in Glencoe in 1855, studied medicine in Edinburgh, and went to China in 1882. A series of lantern slides on Christie’s life, including his three decades of missionary service in China, were acquired by the CSWC and included with other collections on the International Mission Photography Archive (IMPA). Producers from Matchlight, which produced Scots in China, found the images on IMPA and contacted our archivist, Kirsty Stewart. Always helpful, she was happy to provide them with the information they needed. They were used in a segment highlighting the work of the Scottish Churches’ China Group and the legacy of Scottish medical missionaries in China.

Dugald Christie as a Student, ca. 1880
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Photographic Collections at the CSWC Archives

In scenes played out all over Britain, men, women, and children sat in darkened church halls mesmerised by missionary photographs projected on white walls or make-shift screens. Before the average British citizen could see pictures from all over the world on a mobile phone or a home computer, these kinds of presentations were the closest most of them would ever come to seeing other parts of the world. Their conceptions of far-off places were shaped in large part by these slide shows given by missionaries trying to enlist the support of congregations at home.

Jeffrey CannonThe Centre for the Study of World Christianity has thousands of these images in its collection of material relating to the history of world Christianity and the missionary movement. Documenting the spread of Christianity outside of the West has been a major part of the Centre’s work since Andrew Walls founded it in 1982. After working as an archivist for more than fourteen years, the Centre’s archives were an important part of my decision to study here. One of the first things I did after I arrived was meet with the Centre’s archivist, Kirsty Stewart, to discuss material relevant to my project. Continue reading