What catalogue information can you find in
the database, and how reliable is it?
When you have a picture before you in its small form,
with summary information (on the screen entitled "Search Results")
you can click on "more details...." to obtain the comprehensive
Here we list the different categories of catalogue informationon
this screen, and suggest how reliable each category is.
1. The reliability of the information in
the catalogue varies.
You should begin by assuming that the catalogue is correct
- but if you have reason to be sceptical about information
given on a particular picture, or group of pictures, you may
A missionary society used pictures for various purposes. In
its propaganda pictures were mostly chosen for their assumed
impact in Europe. So the interest in accurate documentation
(where? when? who?) was patchy and often weak.
2. Many of the pictures may be, to some extent,
incorrectly documented. Many indeed have very little documentation
at all. We are hoping for significant feeback from users of
the web site, offering us additional information or insights
on specific pictures or groups of pictures.
3. Where English translations are provided
they use the idiomatic ecumenical English of the late 20th
century - and not the colonial English of the same age as
the original German texts. In particular the English translations
avoid one-to-one translations of terms from colonial German
which we know are regarded as insulting or discriminating.
4. A web-site like this is not static. We
hope for plentiful feedback from people who know more about
the pictures or think different thoughts from us in Basel.
There is an address for feedback, and para 10 below explains
what we will do with information you send us.
Individual fields on the screen "master information".
1. REFERENCE NUMBERS.
The "Reference number" is not in itself a historical source
- basically all reference numbers have been assigned since
1980. But the reference number does tell you to which entity
(album, folder etc) a picture belongs. C-30.85.017 is the
17th picture in the file or entity C-30.55.
The reference numbers also reflect the structure of the collection,
however, and if you are working at length with this web site
it might be useful to look at the document which describes
the whole collection in outline (follow the sequence Welcome>Press
Related>Final Report/Project History Overview>Project Narrative
- The pictorial collection in the Basel Mission archive).
If you are in a hurry all you need to know are that the single-letter
reference numbers (A, B, C, D, E) indicate that a photograph
is part of the Basel Mission's "Official Collection", a selection
of several thousand photographs built up from about 1900 as
a resource for the Mission's publications at home. Almost
all photographs whose reference number begins with "Q" belong
to a large and highly miscellaneous collection of photographs
and other types of image which have arrived in the archive
by divers means - often from private hands - but in 1980 were
not part of the official Basel Mission collection. These do
include some photographs which one should regard as having
been part of earlier "official collections" like the photographs
in the series QS-30.001 where all the portraits of male missionaries
had been collected which were made by the Mission before they
travelled abroad for the first time. Note that Qx-32 denotes
a negative, Qx-34 an old-fashioned coloured lantern slide.
Both categories of image had been part of the "official collection"
at some time in the past.
In the top menu bar of the "Master Information" screen you
will see "Entity information". Click on this to be given the
information we have on the entity (album, folder etc) to which
a picture belongs. On the top menu bar of "entity information"
you can click on "consult entity", which enables you to page
through the entity you have called up. By calling up the entity
you can see (a) when approximately in the past an entity was
brought together, and (b) what other pictures are closely
associated with the one you are studying. So - if the photograph
you are studying is part of an album you can "leaf through
the album" by calling up this facility.
3. "PART OF"
also helps you to place a picture in the collection
as a whole in terms already referred to in (1) above.
4. CATALOGUE INFORMATION
which we quote from the photograph or its mount.
4.1 ORIGINAL CAPTION &CAPTION TRANSLATION.
Here we quote the main title originally given to the image
in its original language, and translate this caption into
Stamps record text information not written but stamped or
embossed on the photograph or its mount.
5. PHOTOGRAHER/PHOTO STUDIO
For many of the photographs in the so-called "official collection"
(see "Reference Numbers ", No. 1 above) a name is listed in
an accession register which is, strictly speaking, the name
of the person who handed over an image to the Mission's headquarters.
We assume that this is the name of the photographer. In the
other parts of the collection the name of the photographer
or the photo studio may be given on the mount, or our cataloguing
staff may have concluded, from a comparison of different photographs,
that an individual photograph may belong to a group of pictures,
for some of which a photographer's name is available.
So we expect some interesting surprises when other people
study these holdings intensively, put them in new research
contexts, and compare them with other contemporary photographic
holdings which we do not know.
For your role as user in improving this catalogue see para
10 below!! Who for instance was or were the photographers
whose work is put together in album QD-30.024? He or they
belong to a generation of photographers after the pioneers
who were using cameras in Ghana in the 1860s (QD-30.011 and
QD-30.014), and (it seems) before the major Basel Mission
photographer at the end of the 19th century, Fritz Ramseyer
(QD-30.041, 042, 043 and 044).
6. LOCATION/PEOPLE (=ETHNIC GROUP)
It was part of the task of the catalogue staff to define the
place where each photograph was taken as closely as possible,
using whatever sources were available to them - material in
captions, notes (see below) or other annotations, or their
own knowledge of places obtained by familiarity with photographs.
We are confident that we have ascribed most photographs to
the region where they were taken. Experts may raise doubts
about the exact places where photographs were taken, however.
Again we are hoping for some good feedback on the question
of where photographs were taken (see para 10 below).
7. DATING (Date early/date late; acquisition year)
This again is a group of fields in which the catalogue staff
were asked to do the best they could on the basis of often
inadequate information to define the date when a photograph
was taken. Their sources of information were: acquisition
date (if given) = the latest possible date. date of publication
(if any) = the latest possible date. the years during which
a european depicted on the picture, or who could be identified
as the photographer, worked in a particular mission field
(=date early, date late). networking with other photographs
and their documentation. photographic process Again, the information
given is fairly reliable as far as it goes. But note that
with many images the "date early"/"date late" span is large.
So the user of the web site is asked to exercise caution here.
Some photographs can be dated with some exactness to a specific
period, a specific year, even sometimes a specific day. For
others our dating is merely the best guidelines we can offer.
8. PROPER NAMES OF PEOPLE DEPICTED ON THE PHOTOGRAPHS
Cataloguing staff were requested to record any proper names
in the documents available, but were also given a free hand
to identify persons who appear on a photograph without being
named, if they appear with their name in another photograph.
In this field, however, our main problem is the many, many
people, especially from Africa and Asia, who appear in our
pictures with no kind of indication as to who they were -
other than perhaps as representatives of some social, professional
or religious category. This is an aspect of colonial photography
we would like to leave behind us, and will be very glad to
be include new identifications and more biographical information
in our database. See para 10. Note that in this field "*"
indicates a child whose christian name we do not know. "*Ernst
Schmitt" means "child of Ernst Schmitt".
9. INSTITUTIONAL NAMES
We have used this field as a way of gathering interesting
information on European, Asian and African institutions, listing
here, for example, photographs of specific missionary societies
and commercial firms - but also of named "secret societies"
(regulatory societies) in Cameroon. Our coding has not been
comprehensive, however - that would have been too large a
burden for the cataloguers. But the search facility for "institutional
names" (on the Search Command screen) will give you a good
idea of the kinds of institution we have tried to cover, and
what the gaps look like.
10. NOTES AND NOTES TRANSLATION
These are important fields with two specific functions.
(a) we collect here all historical information
on photographs which does not come under (4) above.
(b) we also collect here any other information
about specific photographs which is generated by peoples'
use of them. If you send us feedback on any photograph, it
will pass through the hands of our web-site editor, and where
appropriate will be put into the Notes field. Information
in Notes/Notes Translation always comes with an indication
of its origins.
Some of our sources are used over and over again, so are referred
to by initials. Others, who come up more rarely, are named
in full. We still have to compile the list of the names behind
the initials. Until this is available we ask you to email
us if you have any specific queries. In our original internal
database we used the term "Annotations" to describe certain
categories of information on the photographs. We decided not
to include Annotations in the database - the substantive information
they contain will be included, with time, in other parts of
the catalogue. You may, however, find references to Annotations
in the Notes fields. If you do, and these are puzzling, please
send us an email query, and we will try to send back clarification.
11. PROCESS, CONDITION, HEIGHT, WIDTH, TYPE AND DIMENSIONS
OF SUPPORT (MOUNT)
This information needs no commentary - it is basic for anyone
using photographs as historical sources.
12. SPECIAL FORMAT
This field supplements the information on dimensions in 11
by telling you if a photograph you are interested in is in
fact a postcards or - if it is much older - exists in visiting