Housed at SOAS Library, University of London, since 1973, the archives of the Council for World Mission are a unique historical resource for the study of the global spread of the Christian faith over the last 200 years, used by academic researchers, family historians, churches and communities from around the world.
Documenting the work of European missionaries in many parts of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean, records in the archive span the whole history of the organisation – from the foundation of the London Missionary Society, to the creation of the Council for World Mission in 1977 and include its records into the present day. As such, they trace the transition from a traditional missionary society of the colonial period, through the growth of independent churches, to CWM’s postcolonial model of partnership of churches in mission where missionaries go ‘from everywhere to everywhere’.
The archive incorporates records of the Council’s predecessor bodies – the London Missionary Society (1795-1966), the Commonwealth (formerly Colonial) Missionary Society (1836-1966) and the English Presbyterian Mission (1843-1972).
Missionaries were meticulous record-keepers, and their archives are full of observations about the places and peoples that they encountered. They comment on mission work in light of the social, cultural, political and economic landscapes of the regions in which they worked. That gives their records broad historical significance and interest.
The collections comprise a wealth of printed and primary source material, such as correspondence, reports, minutes, journals, maps, photographs and films. Highlights include:
- Original handwritten letters and reports from missionaries, indigenous converts and co-workers Personal papers of key individuals in the missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, including
- letters and maps by David Livingstone
- A collection of early miniature portraits
- Thousands of photographs, slides, filmstrips and digitised film footage (1930s-1970s)
- A reference library comprising over 13,000 published books and pamphlets, including periodicals, magazines, reports, translations and resources written for children
Accessing the Archives
Draw on this comprehensive collection of materials, for a glimpse of the rich heritage of CWM as a missionary organization and how it has evolved over the past 40 years. Now into its 100th year, SOAS Library’s collection also provides an unbroken record of CWM’s beginnings during the missionary-sending era in 1795 when it was previously made up of the London Missionary Society (1795-1966), Commonwealth Missionary Society (1836-1966) and the English Presbyterian Mission (1843-1972).
The newest addition to these collections are the archives of the Council for World Mission itself, from its creation in 1977 to recent times. The release of these papers coincides with CWM’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2017.
Council for World Mission archives (from 1977) are now available for consultation in SOAS’ public Reading Room. These papers are in addition to the substantial archive collections already available for the London Missionary Society, Commonwealth Missionary Society and English Presbyterian Mission, all of which form part of your organisation’s rich archival heritage. The wider catalogue incorporating all of this material is available here.