Voyagers All?

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Art, Media and American Studies


Voyagers All? The Historic Role of Missionary Societies in Shaping Children's Understandings of Britain's Place in The World, is a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership between the National Maritime Museum and the Sainsbury Research Unit. The genesis of the project is the desire to contextualize a collection of artifacts that the London Missionary Society donated to the National Maritime Museum in 2012, which have yet to be thoroughly researched.
The central aim of my research shall be to examine the relationships between missionary texts, artefacts and imagery and how exposure to these elements of Missionary propaganda, from youth, affected the worldview of the children who were exposed to them, with a particular emphasis on how this worldview related to conceptions of Empire, national identity and Britain's place in the world.

Missionary Societies recognized the importance of educating children, as both future church members but also as engaged participants and donors in their own right. In the London Missionary Society children played a pivotal role in fundraising for missionary ships. For working-class children in 19th Century Britain attendance at Sunday School was virtually unavoidable (Susan Thorne 2006, 143). As missionaries relied on donations to carry out their work they used an array of tools to woo contributors to their cause.
a missionary back from Africa or Asia... could be expected to have with him the trappings of his work, maps and globes, idols used in pagan rites, and sometimes even a regenerated heathen (Prochaska 1978: 111)
Images have always been sites of propaganda, power and doctrinal contention in Christianity (Brockey 2008) and were used extensively in Missionary educational programs (Brewer 2005) and form a crucial component of the material to be examined as they not only depict the wider world but also reflect their perception of Britain's place within it.
The NMM collection contains items that were used by the LMS to shape children's perceptions of the world and their place within it. The collection will be contextualized by an exhaustive review and analysis of the collection itself and related primary and secondary sources, using an interdisciplinary approach comprising elements from, but not limited to, history, anthropology and art history. Fieldwork will be conducted in the NMM, allowing the in-depth examination of the collection and associated records.

Parsing the relationship between imagined national identity and Britain's position in the world seems particularly timely as these debates are still resonating and form the backdrop to the current political upheavals.


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