Established in 1824, the London Missionary Society mission at Kuruman, South Africa, was a key node in the operation of what became known as ‘the Missionary Road‘, a network of British missions that by the end of the nineteenth century extended from the Cape to Central Africa. Now a protected heritage site, Kuruman exemplifies the engagement between the London Missionary Society (LMS) and South Africa which unfolded at a range of locations between 1797 and 1966.
By 1835, visitors to Kuruman described it as ‘the most perfect Station ‘ (Burrow 1971), and more recently the Comaroff’s have suggested that it was ‘the model Nonconformist station in the interior, the most celebrated token of its type’ (1997). Kuruman in short represented what a missionary station could and should look like, a model that was applied and imitated at various locations across the region, with varying degrees of success. One aim of this project is to interrogate the reality of this assumed exemplary status.
A grant of £6000, awarded to Chris Wingfield (University of Cambridge) and Jesmael Mataga (Sol Plaatje University, Kimberley) from the Cambridge-Africa ALBORADA Research Fund will enable the first full season of a collaborative research at Kuruman in July 2018, launching a long-term interdisciplinary field project focused on the heritage and archaeology of ‘the missionary road’ involving students alongside researchers from both the UK and South Africa.
A partnership with the recently established Sol Plaatje University, the only University in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, the project will make an important strategic addition to the Cambridge-Africa programme, through supporting a new African institution to develop it research ambitions. The field project in July 2018 is timed to coincide with vacation periods at both Cambridge and Sol Plaatje University, and will provide the first cohort of students in SPU’s flagship Archaeology programme their first intensive fieldwork experience, working alongside students from the first cohort of Cambridge’s newly re-launched Archaeology tripos.
The collaborative field research project will provide students from both Kimberley and Cambridge with experience of training in targeted excavation, field survey, oral history interviewing, visitor surveys, as well as archival and museum-based research. Collaboration between researchers in South Africa and the UK is essential to the success of the project, given the entangled histories between the two countries that it explores.
The research training and international exposure students will receive through participating in the project will be key to enabling them to consider future research careers. At the same time, enabling research on mission sites and ‘the missionary road’ supports the ambitions of the Northern Cape to develop a tourist infrastructure in and around these sites, bringing much needed income to a relatively remote area of South Africa, and potential sources of employment for SPU’s new graduates.
We anticipate that the ‘Re-collecting the Missionary Road’ project will serve as an umbrella for a number of student research projects that will develop into Honours, Masters, PhD and ultimately post-doctoral research projects in years to come, as it extends beyond Kuruman to other sites that formed part of a regional network which extended into Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Burrow, John 1971. Travels in the Wilds of Africa: : Being The Diary Of A Young Scientific Assistant Who Accompanied Sir Andrew Smith In The Expedition Of 1834-1836. AA Balkema, South Africa.
Comaroff, John L. & Comaroff, Jean 1997. Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume Two: The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier. University of Chicago Press.