A Visual Interpretation of Photos taken from
the Basel Mission Picture Archive
by Emmanuel Akyeampong

Resume of Visual Interpretation - Emmanuel Akyeampong

The texts and photos in this section offer snapshots into the complex interaction or encounters between Basel Missionaries - usually Swiss or German - and West Africans, Indians, and Chinese between 1850 and 1950. There is a short introduction to my visual interpretation, which provides some historical context on the history of the founding of the Basel Mission Society in 1815, the background of the missionary recruits, and the formative social influences in their lives. The missionary use of photography is thus placed within a cultural and historical setting. The Introduction also provides some context for mission work in West Africa, India and China. It ends with a discussion of my approach to the photographs in the Basel Mission Archive.

The photos and texts can be grouped under political, economic, social, religious, cultural and technological exchanges or developments. This is, of course, an artificial demarcation, and themes such as slavery and slave trade do not fit conveniently into a single category. The texts and photos can be further divided into three large categories: photos and texts on West Africa; photos and texts on Asia; and photos and texts comparing missionary encounters in West Africa and Asia. Political themes include African political culture I & II; and political figures and Euro-African political relations. Economic themes include slavery and slave trade; Arts, crafts and the acquisition of new skills; Markets and economic life; and the Transport Revolution and the transformation of commerce: steamships, trains and lorries. Social themes cover new social groups; health and disease; graves and cemeteries (missionary mortality); clothing and identity; leisure activities; missionaries and gender relations; domestic realms; missionary education; missionaries and linguistic work in vernaculars; and African missionaries. Religious themes encompass African religions; rites of passage: African and European; burial, graveyards and the afterlife; Religion in the Orient; and early Asian converts to Christianity. Cultural and technological exchanges include making a living: Crafts in Asia; and architecture in West Africa and Asia: missionaries as builders.


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