Part 2/ Locating Voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in 19th Century Missionary Periodicals

By Special Collections|16th May 2023|Behind the scenes, Collections & Research|0 comments

Today’s blog comes from Dr Joanne Davis, Research Associate with the Centre of World Christianity at SOAS. Following on from her last blog, Jo reflects on the completion of a successful collaborative research project, BIPOC Voices in the Victorian Periodical Press, which has recently launched on This work introduces and documents a series of unknown or little-studied pieces from Victorian missionary periodicals by BIPOC creators. Here she presents a quick overview of the findings and outcomes which are available for all to use.

Jo Davis at work in SOAS Special Collections

SOAS Special Collections recently partnered with Adrian Wisnicki of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study Victorian periodicals as sources for BIPOC writers and voices (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), and to derive strategies both for identifying and reading those which were located. SOAS Special Collections has a longstanding working partnership with Adrian and the One More Voice initiative through their support of an earlier project Livingstoneonline. Special Collections holds full sets of periodicals or magazines produced by a number of British missionary societies and were keen to surface these voices as part of decolonial thinking around the use of colonial archives such as mission archives in contemporary scholarship. The project was a perfect opportunity to accomplish this. Over five months, SOAS CWC Research Associate Dr Jo Davis looked at London Missionary Society and Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society print periodical holdings, and at UNL, Cassie Fletcher read AMD digital periodical holdings online. Between them they found over 250 documents by BIPOC authors. The sources retrieved from collections held at SOAS and the digital RSVP texts are included through the project website.

As part of this project, several encoders were then tasked with learning to encode and digitise items to be hosted online, equipping them for the growing demands of digitised humanities for these sources. 64 were encoded and are hosted on this page in chronological order for immediate access. Eight scholars contributed peer-reviewed critical essays interrogating critical issues around accessing, recovering and representing these BIPOC voices and identities. Annotated bibliographies are included for the use of scholars to increase fields of experience and aid in speedy research methodologies. These contribute as a way to open up fields, and highlight the scholarship on the sources. All of these resources are freely available for anyone to use. It is a learning and teaching resource haven.

Finding the object of your research project is not necessarily easy. Project scholars co-wrote two sets of guidelines around research methodologies. The first was for researchers who are searching specifically for unidentified black and racialised voices on how to approach these periodicals to find them. Whilst reflecting on this outcome we were able to provide a second unforeseen set of guidelines which digital publishers may consider whilst preparing documentation for the digital medium in order to enable a focused, page by page, word-for-word reading, which we had learned was the only way to truly assess each periodical for these voices. Having digital, digitised aspects of missionary archives means that they are available to all and access to them is immeasurably improved, but reading them on the screen is also demanding. This was beneficial as it once again supported the aim of our project, namely, to increase access to these materials. 

This was a truly enjoyable and fascinating collaborative project with fascinating results. It was an example of collaboration at its best, with development of skills delivered across both sides of the Atlantic. 

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