Accepted paper:

Mission Photography Re-loaded: Openings and Challenges within the Realm of Digital Humanities


Guy Thomas (mission 21 & University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

Mission photography has transgressed a revolutionary technological boundary to assume new analytic potential in anthropology and history. While hitherto firmly rooted within the realm of the ‘Colonial Library’, I explore how the use of mission photography is being diversified in the growing domain of digital humanities.

Paper long abstract:

Mission photography entails an ambiguous undercurrent suggesting a narrow classification of visual material within a framework of image typologies and ideologies. The task of delineating a theory of mission photography is implicitly about exploring the scope of outreach, encounters and diverse subject matter captured and circulated in varied visual formats within and beyond missionary contact zones. The broadening field of visual studies prompts us to re-orient, re-contextualise and re-focus our analytic gaze. Photographs and other visual records are critical points of reference for collective narrative strands about, and analyses of, a wide range of content. The historic production of mission photography, along with its dissemination and consumption in the digital era, assumes new meaning and relevance in relation, for example, to notions of culture, space, science and religion. The reproduction, cataloguing, diffusion and use of mission photography have evolved since the expansion of the commercial use of the internet from the early 1990s. Nowadays, we are keen to seek new avenues to promote both joint cultural heritage initiatives and, more broadly, public memory by means of enhancing the interactive use of images, both between people in different settings and by matching images with other visual and non-visual records. The paper explores modes of inserting mission photograph collections into shared real and virtual domains of social, political, religious and cultural history/ies and anthropology/ies within various networks and interest groups around the globe. The focus is on the collections and developments in the Archives of the Basel Mission / mission 21.

panel P16
Elements toward a theory of mission photography