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. As well as being centres of evangelization, education and cultural exchange, 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 this 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 the evidence of these encounters that remains embedded in African landscapes that were substantially transformed in the process. Churches, schools and buildings, 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.
Chris Wingfield, MAA’s Curator of World Archaeology, was awarded a Fellowship for Early Career Researchers from the UK by South Africa’s National Research Foundation and Department for Science and Industry in order to spend six months during the second half of 2017 at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative at the University of Cape Town in order to establish this project. In the longer term, it will lead to a major exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, scheduled for 2024. However, there are a number of complementary strands or sub-projects with different sources of funding that are intended to feed into this larger project in various ways.