Annika Vosseler, Universität - Leipzig

The visual representation of Africa in European missionary drawings of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Visual representations of Africa have always played a crucial role in displaying the encounters between Europe and Africa. The late 19th century experienced a massive increase in visual output in newspapers, magazines and journals images coming from the colonial peripheries in Africa and Asia due to technical developments in printing and photography. But little research has been conducted on early 19th century missionary images of Africa. Thus, the aim of the research project is to investigate how Africa was represented in drawings of European missionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries and how the images were used in staging the European-African encounters. The pictures were not only used in the missionary periodicals but also circulated in the European and South African societies and fed into wider societal discussions on the missionary enterprise and the European encounter with the non-European world. The images focus on southern Africa and were published in the following missionary periodicals: The Missionary Magazine and Chronicle/later The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society, the Juvenile Missionary Magazine, the Berliner Missions-Berichte and Missionsschriften für Kinder. The attention lies on the drawings, etchings and wood cuts which were used prior to photographs, which were mainly used by the 1880s. The time frame ranging from the 1830s to 1930s.

After scrutinizing the periodicals, two major topics were identified - the representation of people and the depiction of landscapes and nature. I will divide these two sets into further subcategories, such as the representations of African authorities, members of the community or missionaries, African and European architecture, mission stations or material culture objects. By analysing the images, I intend to uncover the visual practices of the missionary societies and how they utilized the images to visualize the missionaries’ encounters with southern Africa. The corpus of images will contain about 1000 images which will have to be reduced by carefully selecting the most meaningful images. My research is informed by research that has been conducted in the field of missionary and colonial photography as well as 19th century images of European travellers and adventurers.

Furthermore, I will investigate the publishing and printing processes of the missionary societies which will - hopefully - shed light into the circulation of images and provide some insight into the communication networks of the missionary societies in Europe but also in southern Africa. Ongoing research has shown that missionary societies worked and supported one another in their common aim of spreading Christianity in Africa.  

The project is positioned in an interdisciplinary field engaging with “entangled” African-European histories, the encounter and ‘long conversation’ between missionaries and local communities in Africa and the publishing and printing practices of the 19th and early 20th centuries. By using neglected visual sources, I intend to clarify what role European representations play in the shared history of Africa and Europe.