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Re-collecting the missionary road

In 2017, Chris Wingfield was awarded a Fellowship by South Africa’s National Research Foundation and Department for Science and Industry to spend six months at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative at the University of Cape Town to establish this umbrella project, into which a number of complementary strands with various sources of funding can feed.

The Missionary Road

The Cape of Good Hope first came under British control in 1795, the same year the London Missionary Society (LMS) was founded. In 1799, LMS mission stations were established on the northern and eastern frontiers of the new South African colony. Mission stations became important nodes in an expanding network that connected the African interior to the industrial cities of Europe. By the late nineteeth century, Cecil Rhodes regarded the ‘missionary road’ as a key avenue of British influence northwards, a “Suez Canal” from the Cape to Central Africa.


The intention of the project is to re-collect and re-assemble a wide range of artefacts associated with the missionary road: written accounts, images and artefacts brought to Europe by missionaries and travellers, but also evidence of these encounters that remains embedded in African landscapes that were transformed in the process. Churches, both standing and abandoned, are the most visible signs of the missionary past,  but the distribution of plant and animal species has also been shaped by encounters involving the introduction of irrigation, fencing, and ploughs, but also rifles.


Making historic images available on - supported by University of East Anglia GCRF QR Discretionary Faculty Funds this project involving students from Sol Plaatje University saw the digitisation and uploading of historic images from SOAS Special Collections in London, the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, as well MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg

Leather trousers and leopard skin waistcoats - funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, this Collaborative Doctoral Partnership with the British Museum explores practices of leather production and related museum collections

Metal on the Missionary Road - funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant, this began the process of compiling evidence on the precolonial use of metal, and the impacts of imported manufactured goods

Kuruman Field School 2018 - funded by the Cambridge-Africa Alborada Research Fund, this enabled a field school at the Kuruman Moffat Mission, organised in collaboration with Sol Plaatje University and the McGregor Museum, Kimberley

Preliminary Fieldwork at the Kuruman Moffat Mission, 2017 - funded by the D M McDonald Grants and Award Fund, this enabled geophysical assessment and preliminary work at Kuruman


2018.  Articles of Dress, Domestic Utensils, Arms and Other Curiosities: Excavating Early 19th-Century Collections from Southern Africa at the London Missionary Society Museum. Journal of Southern African Studies, 44:4, 723-742, DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2018.1491519