Missionaries bringing the word and taking images

Lantern slides, Archive of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Credit: USPG archive. Copyright Us.
Lantern slides, Archive of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Credit: USPG archive. Copyright Us.

Stuart Barnard (University of Calgary), RBC-Bodleian Visiting Fellow, writes:

The papers of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), an Anglican missionary organization formed in 1701, is a vast collection comprising items from the organization’s origins until the 1960s. The SPG was active around the world, and its network of missionaries and clergymen left a wonderful trove of correspondence and diaries of their work overseas. The records include executive minutes, financial records, books and catalogues, periodicals, and maps, representing a wide variety of historical materials. The collection provides an important lens into the Anglican Church’s global expansion and colonial encounters in the British Empire.

A unique item within the collection is an assortment of lantern slides that date from around the turn of the twentieth century. There are 75 boxes of varying sizes, many of which hold dozens of slides each. The square panes of glass typically measure roughly three inches on each side, and feature both black and white and colour images from around the world highlighting locations in which the Society was at work and the groups to whom they ministered. Several boxes contain slides showing Biblical scenes that may have been useful for teaching in schools established by SPG missionaries.

My particular interest lies in the SPG’s work in Canada in the nineteenth century, and the collection includes fascinating pictures of popular Canadian landmarks. Striking images of Niagara Falls, the Banff Springs Hotel, wildlife, and mountain scenes are all featured on the Canadian slides. Unlike many of the other sets of slides in the SPG’s collection which highlight the day-to-day work of missionaries in schools and churches around the world, most of these Canadian slides were likely used to highlight the famous places and familiar themes in order to pique the interest of British members and donors whose contributions sustained overseas missions. Nonetheless, the images are stunning and represent a wonderful treasure within the SPG’s collection at the Bodleian.

Stuart Barnard will be speaking about his research into the SPG archives on February 19, see event listing for details.