Title pages of Wesleyan Missionary Notices with illustrations of, left, Charles Pamla and, right, James Dwane.

Sources on African Representation in Protestant Missionary Periodicals

Author: Trevor Bleick (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Editor: Adrian S. Wisnicki (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Copyeditor: Dino Franco Felluga (Purdue University)

Date (publication and updates): 2022

BIPOC Voices in the Victorian Periodical Press

Author: Trevor Bleick (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Editor: Adrian S. Wisnicki (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Copyeditor: Dino Franco Felluga (Purdue University)

  1. Overview
  2. Annotated Bibliography
  3. Page Citation
  4. Lead Image Details


My essay “African Representation in Protestant Missionary Periodicals,” published by One More Voice and COVE in association with the “BIPOC Voices in the Victorian Periodical Press” project (henceforth “BIPOC Voices”), references or was influenced by the following sources. The sources informed the ideological analysis of the essay and served as important pieces for understanding the ongoing critical conversations surrounding representation in missionary periodicals. While many of these sources engage with missionary periodicals directly, some of the sources also helped clarify the representational and theological tensions with which my essay engages. In identifying these sources, I aimed to compile research that goes outside of historical and literary analysis in an effort to take an interdisciplinary approach to missionary periodicals. Collectively, the sources offer critical analyses of the representation of African Indigenous peoples in missionary periodicals and nineteenth-century Europe writ large, and also present theological and quantitative theory related to missionary periodicals and missionary work in Africa.

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Beetham, Margaret. 1989. “Open and Closed: The Periodical as a Publishing Genre.” Victorian Periodicals Review 22 (3): 96–100.

    Scholarship that deals with periodicals often cites Beetham’s essays. This short piece, while not a recent essay, provides a key theoretical framework for looking at periodicals as a distinct genre, although the piece doesn’t deal with missionary periodicals directly. Beetham discusses the numerous difficulties involved in analyzing periodicals, ranging from the challenges raised by the periodicals’ unique publication style to the often flimsy quality of associated archival documents.

    In developing her argument, Beetham draws on two psychoanalytical terms, “open” and “closed,” to help theorize the way periodicals created meaning. An open form offers numerous readings and alternative ways of understanding the information presented, while a closed form is more oppressive or strict in its way of presenting information. Beetham posits that the periodical exists on a spectrum between open and closed, each publication positioning itself somewhere between the two.

    Beetham’s early work with the periodical as a genre provides important critical context for analytical engagement with many of the sources with which my essay and the “BIPOC Voices” project deal.

  2. Fong, Ryan. 2020. “The Stories Outside the African Farm: Indigeneity, Orality, and Unsettling the Victorian.” Victorian Studies 62 (3): 421-432.

    Fong takes up the issue of representation of Indigenous literatures of the British Empire in Victorian studies. He focuses his analysis on South Africa, specifically the literature of the Khoisan. He criticizes the way nineteenth-century European editors such as Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd compiled the oral stories of the Khoisan people (and those of other Indigenous cultures) and reoriented the stories within a European epistemological framework. Bleek contextualized the oral stories he transcribed by likening them to medieval European animal fables, thus placing the oral stories within a European tradition. Fong argues that while collecting and distributing Khoisan literature provided important traces of representation and expression, editorial biases heavily influenced such work.

    Fong closes with an analysis of Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883), in which he calls attention to the novel’s problematic representation of its few Khoisan characters. He argues that embracing Indigenous epistemological frameworks in Victorian literature provides a well-rounded theoretical practice that recognizes the Indigenous roots of many stories. Centering critical analysis of Victorian texts within relevant Indigenous epistemologies, Fong ultimately argues, can help to tear down the strict settler-colonial structures of the nineteenth century.

    Considering the Victorian period is of particular interest to the “BIPOC Voices” project, Fong’s suggestion that scholars disrupt the Eurocentric mindset points to an alternative framework through which innovative analysis can be built. The earliest iterations of my essay emanated from a similar realization – that African representation in missionary periodicals appears to be biased due to editorial influence.

  3. Nweke, Kizito Chinedu. 2020. “Multiple Religious Belonging (MRB): Addressing the Tension between African Spiritualities and Christianity.” Theology Today 77 (1): 76–88.

    In this theological essay, Nweke provides a theological interrogation of nineteenth-century missionary engagement with African Indigenous peoples. He explores the ways in which religion and spirituality are not exclusively an existential choice and how often religious dialogue fails to include nonreligious aspects of one’s life. Nweke goes on to present the concept of “multiple religious belonging (MRB),” a term that captures the idea that  individuals can (and sometimes must) incorporate multiple religious beliefs and cultures into their day-to-day lives.

    As Nweke indicates, African religion/spirituality is diverse as beliefs often differed between ethnic groups well before missionary intervention. While this diverse religious/spiritual intermingling may seem like it would prime African Indigenous peoples to engage with Christian missionaries, Nweke ultimately contends that African spirituality concentrates on the individual, the community, and the African continent, and that these elements need to be recovered in contemporary religious studies before any interreligious dialogue can be taken up.

    Nweke’s scholarship provides an analysis of the complex religious relationship that affects African theological communities. His essay offers compelling insight into a dichotomy that can be documented through many of the texts published or otherwise identified by One More Voice.

  4. Petzke, Martin. 2018. “The Global ‘Bookkeeping’ of Souls: Quantification and Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Missions.” Social Science History 42 (2): 183–211.

    Petzke engages with the “sociology of quantifiables” and demonstrates how recordkeeping practices within the mission work of the nineteenth century can be linked to the growth and development of global capitalism. He provides an overview of accounting literature that analyzes singular organizations, but explains how this literature rarely takes up social institutions like religion. Petzke goes on to explore the macro-economical influence of religious missions and the competition for the “souls” of the African continent, while also providing an historical account of the sociology and language of quantifiables. Using numerical indicators, Petze concludes, gave rise to manipulation based on quantification, which deeply influenced the language and targets of Christian missionaries in Africa.

    Unlike many of the sources referenced in my essay and the larger “BIPOC Voices” project, Petzke’s essay analyzes missionary endeavors through the lens of the sociology of quantification and field theory. His essay provides key quantitative context for the recognizable linguistic trends with which my essay engages.

  5. Wild-Wood, Emma. 2021. “The Interpretations, Problems and Possibilities of Missionary Sources in the History of Christianity in Africa.” World Christianity: Methodological Considerations, edited by Martha Frederiks and Dorottya Nagy, 92–112. Brill.

    Wild-Wood’s chapter on missionary work in Africa provides a detailed overview of the complexities surrounding Christian missions and outlines how these archival texts are often biased by the concerns of missionaries, their societies, and their supporters. She also discusses the complicated history of missionary periodical scholarship and how, early on, such scholarship regularly ignored the status of such periodicals as cultural artifacts. Many scholars, Wild-Wood argues, avoided missionary periodicals because those scholars perceived mission work to be either a cultural assault against African Indigenous peoples or a general success story that didn’t require elaboration.

    Wild-Wood then provides a survey of recent scholarship that views missionary engagement in Africa as a period of “cultural exchange” and explores an example from the journal of Ruth Fisher, one of the first female missionaries. Wild-Wood concludes her chapter by arguing that, due to the complex relationship between missionary work and colonialism, an understanding of missionary work and this time period forms an essential part of studying global Christianity.

    Through the lens of religious studies, Wild-Wood explores the complicated landscape of scholarship that engages with missionary periodicals. Her recognition of the tumultuous history of missionary periodicals and the broad range of scholarship that has engaged with this genre was critical to the framing of my essay. Wild-Wood also helps to establish a scholarly framework for the literature published and/or otherwise documented by One More Voice and the “BIPOC Voices” project.