Preserving materials on missionaries

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This image of students working in anatomy lab of West China Union University, Chengdu, Sichuan, China, ca.1934 is from the Daniel Dye Papers in the Yale Divinity School Library.

The Yale Divinity Library has received three grants to digitize materials related to the history of missionary activity and world Christianity.

A $200,000 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Program grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will be used to digitize annual reports and periodicals of mission agencies from the library’s Day Missions Collection ( 

The Divinity Library has also received $25,500 from the NEH’s Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Program to fund the library’s participation in the International Missionary Photography Archive (IMPA) project hosted by the University of Southern California (

A $5,000 grant from the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (UBCHEA) ( ) will support the continuation of the library’s project to digitize selections from the United Board archives, which include documentation of the 13 colleges and universities started by Protestant mission agencies in China beginning in the late 1800s.

In recent years, historians and religious studies scholars have shown renewed interest in analyzing what missionary sources can reveal about indigenous cultures, the impact of political movements, and the rise of nationalism in developing countries.  Missionaries tended to live in developing countries for longer periods than diplomats or business agents, and many became fluent in indigenous languages and literatures. Historians have begun to use mission records to learn about social, economic, and cultural changes among the populations with whom the missionaries worked. The digitization of 19th- and 20th- century mission periodicals and reports will preserve important documents for future generations, and extend access to a much broader constituency.

The Day Missions Collection at the Yale Divinity School Library is considered the preeminent North American collection for documentation of the history of missions and the development of Christianity throughout the world. The collection was established in 1892 by George Edward Day, a professor of Hebrew language and literature. The NEH grant will enable the Divinity Library to continue work begun under a recent grant from the Arcadia Foundation to Yale University Library (see related story to support the digitization of 110,000 pages of annual reports, many of which are now available online at The NEH grant will also facilitate making all digital surrogates available through an integrated delivery system that provides full text searching.

The NEH grant for the International Mission Photography project will fund the digitization and description of nearly 3,000 images. Previously, the Divinity Library contributed more than 7,000 photographs to the IMPA database during two earlier phases of the project, funded by the Getty and Mellon foundations. Work is now underway to make the Yale IMPA photographs available through the University’s Library’s Digital Collection search, in addition to the IMPA database hosted by the University of Southern California.

The United Board grant will be used to digitize publications of several colleges and universities supported by mission agencies in China, including Fukien Christian University, Ginling College, the University of Nanjing, and St. John’s University. In 2010, the Yale Divinity School Library received a $5,000 grant from UBCHEA to digitize archived materials, primarily relating to medical education in China. The digital copies from this earlier project are available at:,0 and will be linked to the finding aid for the UBCHEA archives (

For more information, contact Martha Smalley, curator of the Day Missions Collection at

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