From SOAS, on the LMS
Archives aren’t quiet places. Staff go about their work in resounding stage whispers, chattering researchers have to be shushed by other researchers, helicopters whir endlessly over head, a loud-speaker comes on and the whole library is shouted at to be quiet in silent areas. It’s the SOAS library in London in exam time. Not quiet but still the repository of endless delights, in particular of that totally extraordinary thing, the records of the London Missionary Society, from the 1790s to 1939. We (me and Sue Wise, to be joined by Emilia Sereva) are here for two weeks drawing a one in five sample of letters from the South African component (with closure one day, Wednesday, every week, plus a bank holiday, we’ll see how far we get).
Three things jump out to date. One is that the letters are the business letters of the employees of an organisation. Belief and religion are as it were in the margins, displaced by the urgencies of their financial accounts for the LMS to pay, their travel arrangements, and events in the African societies they were missionaries in. Another is that class trumped race until quite late on, certainly in the area beyond the Cape and Transvaal they called ‘the Interior’, and they all swooned over the King, the Princes, the leading Indunas, while tututting over the uncouth and lowly. And the third is that in the area that is now Zimbabwe, things changed dramatically and swiftly when the murderous crew of Rhodes, Jameson and the British South Africa Company arrived and took over with much slaughter and blood in a heart of darkness near genocide.
Last updated: 22 May 2015