in the Jungles of London
(The following talk was written for and delivered at ALA in June 2002.)
Part One. Meeting Modern Missionaries
On August 13th 1992 I arrived at the old airport in Kiev around 8 PM for a 10:40 flight to Prague. We did not take off until after midnight. In the interim, finding myself bored and surrounded by a group of noisy American college students spread out on the floor and into every nook and cranny, I engaged them in conversation. I had seen them the day before in Freedom square in Kiev, where they had been handing out bibles.
In Freedom Square I had asked one young woman why they didn’t give some of these poor people something to eat and she replied that she had no food. I asked if she had eaten dinner the night before and was planning to eat again, and I suggested that she consider saving half of her next meal for tomorrow’s hungry and poor. She informed me that she couldn’t do anything like that because the people feeding her would be insulted.
I asked these young Protestants why they had come to Ukraine to give out bibles to hungry people, most of them Ukrainian Orthodox or Ukrainian Catholic. They replied that there was a problem with the religious beliefs of the Ukrainian people in that they believed that the only way to get to heaven was to do good deeds, whereas these young missionaries knew that all one had to do to get to heaven was to take Jesus into your heart. So I suppose their message, first of all, was “our religion is better than yours and you would do well to change. While it won’t help you fill your belly or deal with the poverty and tumult afflicting Ukraine in the 1990s, it will ensure your getting into heaven when you die–perhaps shortly from malnutrition.” And it seems to me there was a subtext saying, “there’s no point in doing good deeds because they won’t help you get into heaven, so you might as well go through life not helping other people.” Perhaps if the young missionaries had taken this advice to heart, they would have stayed home and not bothered traveling 5,000 miles to help these people get into heaven.
These were modern missionaries. I suppose that in prehistoric times, shamans and witch doctors exalted their own positions within illiterate communities to the point where chiefs and warriors came to rely upon them for explanations and advice. And I suppose that when one tribe conquered another tribe, its religious leader expanded his flock. And therefore I suppose it’s not at all surprising that as religions became more organized, they sought to continue the process of conquering foreign societies and imposing their beliefs on them–prior to levying tithes.
Part Two. Microfilming Missionary Materials
The Society for Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) was founded by Royal Charter in 1701 through the efforts of the Rev. Thomas Bray and a resolution of the Lower House of Convocation, plus the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, of Bishop Tennison Crompton of London, and of The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge or SPCK.
Paul Knights, currently the chief editor at Microform Academic Publishing in Wakefield, England, who was not yet born in 1961 when the following events took place, has generously provided me with copious notes made more than 40 years ago, which I am now quoting. “On 10th June 1959, almost 260 years after the founding of the SPG, a letter was addressed to the Secretary of the SPG asking him to come to see some microfilming equipment at a local exhibition. ‘Dear Sir/Madam, We are holding an exhibition of Micro Methods’ services and equipment in London on the 15th and 16th of June and thought you might like to come along and see the latest developments. We hope to have available our new micro reading equipment together with details of the latest publications in microform. If you would like an appointment… please contact us.’”
The letter was sent by a firm then known as Micro Methods Ltd., which later became EP Microform and which today is known as Microform Academic Publishing. Again quoting Paul Knights: “The letter received no reply. However, one of the research assistants at Micro Methods approached the SPG again in December 1960. This time the request was to film some of their records that could be published and sold around the globe. The request was taken up by Father Morgan, who set to work finding materials of interest. A meeting took place in Spring 1961 in which contractual arrangements commenced. Production started with the idea of filming the Journal and Report of the Rev. Philip Quaque (pronounced quack as in the duck.).” The entry in the MAP catalog reads:
QUAQUE, LETTERS OF REV. PHILLIP...
From the Archives of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, now held at Rhodes House Library, Oxford. Introduction by Miss Muriel Bently, Achimota School, Ghana. Philip Quaque was the first African to be ordained in the Church of England. He was sent to London by the missionary Reverend Thomas Thompson to be educated according to Christian principles and returned to Cape Coast Castle in 1765 to carry on the work of the SPG. He wrote regularly to the Society until his death in 1811. 1 Reel
Quoting Paul Knights: “After a further
meeting, Father Morgan set about finding additional materials to publish. Numerous
items were identified. Father Morgan was extremely keen to hear about the whole
microfilming idea as it was relatively new at the time. He even suggested contacting
the Times Literary Supplement to propose an article on the project.
All agreed that the problem with microfilming archives at that time was trying
to find the right archives to publish in terms of what would be of interest
to the academic community.
“A short while later a blanket agreement was signed that permitted Micro Methods to film whatever they wanted. It seems that the publishers at this stage were more interested in calendars and diaries rather than letters. The parties agreed that filming was to be done on site and in 1961 the work commenced. It is worth stating that Father Morgan also made numerous suggestions as to the SPG material conducive for microfilm publishing, and the editor at the time noted: The archivists know their collections better than anyone else.”
According to Paul Knights, “The chief editor at the time was Richard Ian Charlton who is now working two days a week at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University, and who recently recalled those early days. He said that the other editor was someone named Pickering,” who later became famous in My Fair Lady. Paul Knights reports that Charlton told him: “‘We had two research assistants each–both were students. We used to go round to private houses like Longleat, Harewood House and various estates with archives. We used to sell the idea of microfilming their archives as security for their unique records, for preservation and also for wider access. The academic market in the US was booming and sales were guaranteed over there. In the 1960's few UK libraries were interested in purchasing sets of microfilm of originals that were housed in same country.
“‘Students used to go through research yearbooks to find records that were not published. We sold the microfilming less on academic dissemination and more on security and preservation. We then produced an estimated reel count and costing to calculate some idea of how many sales were needed. We had some universities in the US whom we dealt with and whom we would contact to sell the films to. We would always get 5 or 6 pre-publication orders before starting.’”
As of today, MAP’s catalog lists 28 collections of Missionary materials, including selected archival documents from the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Church Missionary Society and the Manchester Ministry to the Poor. Most of the originals are now held at Rhodes House Library in Oxford, but other materials came from the Manchester Public Library and elsewhere. Among them are the reports of missionaries, including their letters, as well as minutes of meetings and the like. Also included are several serial publications, such as The Church Missionary Society Review, 1907-27. Most of the collections relate to missions to Africa–Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, Uganda, etc. Some of the collections also describe missions to the West Indies, Nova Scotia and India. One subset contains American material in the Archives of the SPG.
I could describe these collections in more detail but then I would just be reading the catalog to you. Instead, I happen to have some copies with me that you can pick up. I will be accepting orders at the end of the program.
We have been representing MAP, as well as World Microfilms in London, for nearly 30 years. Stephen Albert, the Director of World Microfilms, informed me: “The microfilm collection with the most material relating to missionary work in India is the Archives of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. They spent most of the 17th to 20th centuries assisting missionaries in the field by providing Bibles and educational materials for the ‘natives.’ Both the Minutes and the Letterbooks are full of relevant material. The S.P.C.K. are still there, by the way, off the Marylebone Road, and can (I think) be visited by appointment. Three of the collections from Lambeth Palace Library have some material relating to missionaries in Asia. The Christian Faith Society, set up ‘for advancing religion among the infidels’ worked mainly in North America & the West Indies, but did include Mauritius in its remit, so there will be some references in their Papers. This Society also still exists.”
The Pacific Manuscripts Bureau in Australia has filmed a large collection of missionary materials, including such items as: Missionary Diaries Kept in New Zealand, 1892-96; Annales des Missions de la Société de Marie, 1853-1886; George H. Eastman, Source Material on Kiribati and the Work of the London Missionary Society in the Pacific; etc.
The State Library of South Africa in Pretoria, whom we also represent, has filmed Berliner Missionsberichte, 1836-1939. Other such periodical titles can be found in our catalogs. For instance, from Asia we have China Mission Year Book, 1910-1939.
Here's a title microfilmed at New York Public Library: "Annual Report Concerning Missionary Labor Among the Jews in the City of New York" (1868-1870).
IDC, whose publications I’m sure you are familiar with, has filmed a substantial number of collections of missionary materials, but as we no longer represent them, I didn’t want to talk about them too much and risk generating an order for them!
I suppose anyone studying the records of missionary missions to Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries might want to compare these reports to the records of the anti-slavery societies, many of which have been filmed by World Microfilms.
Part Three. The Title of My Paper
I thought I might try to explain the title of my paper a bit further. When I was initially invited to make this presentation, I replied that our company had not published any missionary materials ourselves, and furthermore, what had been filmed had not been filmed in Asia, Africa or the Middle East, but rather, in the UK. I then received the following message:
Dear Mr. Ross,
I am writing to you to answer your questions regarding your possible participation in the program to be sponsored by the African, Asian and Middle Eastern section of ACRL.... Given your firm's history of preservation, you might address the successes and failures you have had in preserving mission-related collections from the three regions of AAMES and the problems you encountered in locating each. Please respond to me as soon as possible.--rob. ridinger, chair, AAMES 2002 Program Committee, NIU
I thought–what a great opportunity–to
tell a roomful of librarians about our past failures! That’s better than
singing off key at one of our parties. Further, the phrase, “the problems
you encountered in locating each [that is, such collections]” suggested
to me that perhaps Robert wanted me to describe the ordeals we suffered as we
traipsed around the jungles of Asia and Africa or through the deserts of the
Middle East. Although I wasn’t searching for missionary collections at
the time, I have searched through my files and come up with the following pictures
showing me searching–searching for rare books, old newspapers, a good
meal, a swimming pool, etc. Here I am meeting with the head of the National
Library of Thailand and her key staff; here’s me on an elephant in the
jungle north of Chiang Mai; on a camel in the desert; etc. But as I said, all
of the materials filmed, for instance, by MAP and World Microfilms, were filmed
in the UK. Most of IDC’s collections were filmed in Europe as well, although
IDC has sent editors and cameras to various parts of the world to film materials
At the same time, I probably have visited more countries seeking out microfilms and microfilm projects than anyone else, so Robert and I agreed I would talk about that a little, even if it doesn’t pertain to missionary collections. That is, Robert asked me to explain how we find and film collections, regardless of whether they are missionary materials or not. I need to provide the historical context.
I started Clearwater Publishing in 1972. Our first project was publishing the records of the Indian Claims Commission. In 1987 I sold all of Clearwater’s masters and rights to Congressional Information Service and started a new company, at first limited to distributing microfilms of missionary materials and other collections for firms like MAP and World, as Clearwater had been doing. In 1990, at the suggestion of Edward Kasinec, Chief of the Slavic and Baltic Division of the New York Public Library, I began traveling throughout Eastern Europe to develop filming projects. Edward accompanied me on several of these trips and provided me with introductions to a wide array of people throughout the region, such as the Director of the Hermitage. Cyrus Eaton, Jr., was also an early supporter of my activities in Russia. The Soros Foundation under-wrote my first trip to Prague. My wife paid for the rest of them–dearly.
My approach in each locale is to first try to find someone to produce microfilms for us. This would either be a commercial laboratory or a library. Then I approach the main newspapers seeking contracts giving us the filming rights. In this country, firms like Heritage in Iowa, and UMI, charge the newspapers for doing the filming and then give them credits in lieu of royalties when they are able to sell copies of the films. Obviously, UMI doesn’t charge for filming the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, etc. In fact, as I recall, UMI paid the Times $10 million just for the rights and on top of that pays huge royalties.
However, I did not feel going into a newspaper office in a foreign country that I would be able to get anyone to pay me anything, so I didn’t try, and we do the work free of charge. Starting in Prague in 1990 we have signed more than 300 such contracts in about 30 countries, and with the exception of one or two newspapers, we are doing all of the filming in those countries. For instance, on June 11th we signed a contract to publish The Deccan Herald.
Parallel to approaching the newspapers, I also approach the main libraries and, sometimes, the archives. However, it’s much easier to work with libraries than with archives, especially national libraries vs. national archives because many archivists feel that exporting their country’s records on microfilm is unpatriotic or a violation of sovereignty or the like. From our pont of view, archival materials are much harder to sell because they are difficult to work with. They generally are focused on narrower topics than printed materials in libraries. To give you an idea about archival materials, we recently acquired the rights to copies of four reels of film made in the National Archives of Ecuador. The shelf list accompanying them runs to roughly 700 pages because there are so many individual items.
Let me try to focus on the geographical areas being discussed today vis-á-vis my personal experience. In August 1997 my older daughter became a Fellow in the “Yale in Asia” Program. She was based in Hong Kong for two years and in December of that year my wife and I visited her. I decided to use the opportunity to also visit Manila. The result was that we can now supply films of virtually all of the Philippine newspapers. From Manila I went to Taiwan, where I made the rounds as usual. A woman in the National Library, Teresa Wang Chang, was very receptive to the idea that we would advertise and sell copies of their existing films. She had 20 catalogs detailing their holdings, but all were out of print. However she agreed to send me a set anyway. Five years later I am still waiting, and she has retired. In fact, two years ago I met her at ALA in Chicago with her successor, but still nothing has happened.
In Hong Kong I was also able to make some agreements. One was with the library at Chinese University where my daughter was teaching. But although we have been advertising the films for five years, I don’t think we’ve ever received an order. On the other hand, we can supply some of the main Hong Kong newspapers, including Sing Tao, the South China Morning Post.. And finally, I sold about $25,000 worth of microfilms to each of the two main university libraries–Chinese U. and Hong Kong U., and they mostly bought the same titles. What we sold them were newspapers and official gazettes from Hong Kong, that is, published there, but filmed elsewhere, such as at the New York Public Library and the British Library. But the four institutions had apparently never communicated with each other on the subject, so neither library in Hong Kong knew they could obtain these materials from the other two libraries, and the other two libraries don’t advertise.
My next stop was Bangkok. The routine was the same but despite about five visits over the last five years, I have only been able to sign one newspaper contract–with The Nation.
In Malaysia, Singapore and Jakarta my experiences were similar to some of the other countries, but each was different. I sold a great many microfilms in both Malaysia and Singapore and succeeded in signing contracts with newspapers in all three countries, but we have only succeeded in getting microfilms produced in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. One newspaper we are waiting for from KL is virtually banned by the government and the lab we work with is literally afraid to touch it.
I also visited Hanoi and met with three newspapers there–which publish in English, French and Vietnamese respectively. All three seemed very interested, but none signed a contract. The same for the National Library. One problem is that we don’t have a local rep for follow-up in Hanoi, whereas we do have people in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, as well as in many other places.
We are currently filming in Mexico and Guatemala, but I gather they are outside your purview. We are filming in South Africa, but strictly by remote control. I would be happy to explain if anyone is interested, but I’ve never been there.
I believe that if we would return a little more often to these various countries, and if we had local representatives in all of them to keep things moving between trips, we would be more successful. However, the trips are very costly and we don’t have that many people on our staff equipped to make them. We do have people in our office who speak Japanese, Chinese and Korean, as well as French, Italian and Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Serbian, as well as some Greek, Hebrew and Yiddish. However, just having the language skills doesn’t qualify everyone for flying around the world and negotiating contracts. And also, it isn’t cheap. And furthermore, I don’t know if we would find any missionary collections to film, although James Cheng invited me to look at some of the missionary materials at Harvard!