The Fritz Ramseyer Collection - An Ethnography of a Protestant Mission Archive (1864-1908)




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This thesis investigates Protestant mission photography through the Fritz Ramseyer Collection held at the Basel Mission Archives in Switzerland. Photography created in a mission context in the nineteenth century is abundant and can be found in many institutions and archives across the globe. These repositories, though under-researched, yield interesting facets of visual culture that reflect the complexity of mission. I argue that the photographic archives of the Basel Mission reconstruct institutional control rather than re-enforcing it and, as such, re-imagine Protestant mission. I explore what role Protestant traditions of visuality in the nineteenth century played in the introduction of photography to the Basel Mission, and how photography performed in the hand of the missionary in the field, especially as it remained unregulated. The image regimes prevalent in the Basel Mission reveal that far from resisting and marginalising photography, however much they were burdened by their distrust of the visual, the mission society acknowledged the increased desire for the visual. Within this distinct habitus the missionary photographer played a decisive role in determining how mission was visualised. This occurred in ways that contrasted the myth of mission perpetuated by the mission society, but increasingly incorporated photography into the Protestant visual. This is evident in the large repositories found in the Basel Mission Archives. Their particular approach to photography allows for the varied trajectories of photography employed by the mission to emerge and creates scope for epistemic facets of photography created in a Protestant mission, to be investigated. The emphasis on the multifaceted information conveyed through photographs provides photographic holdings with the scope to confront the way photography was created and used in a Protestant mission. It also points to the wider ways in which mission photography can contribute to research into Protestant mission in all its complexity, beyond the double burden of doctrine and photography. The archives become dynamic collaborators in historical knowledge, not simply deposits to be excavated.





Research Institute