The Material Culture of China Missions
Artifacts from the Yale Divinity Library Special Collections
By Martha Smalley
This new exhibit at the Institute of Sacred Music contains artifacts and documents from the personal papers of Protestant missionaries who served in China during the first half of the twentieth century. These items, in conjunction with extensive collections of letters, diaries, writings, and printed materials, were donated to the Yale Divinity Library by the missionaries and their families. The Yale Divinity Library is world-renowned for its documentation of the Protestant missionary enterprise.
Missionary papers provide valuable historical insight and factual information about political events, economic conditions, social issues, and local practices. Perhaps more so than diplomatic, military, or business personnel stationed overseas, missionaries were able to walk freely among the common people observing everyday events.
In some cases, the artifacts on display were gifts to the missionaries; in other cases the missionaries deliberately sought out and collected them. Some of the items were used by the missionaries in their interactions with the Chinese people; others were used by missionaries to reveal aspects of Chinese culture to the American public as they traveled around to churches and events in order to garner support for their work in China.
The exhibit will be on display through October 19, 2007.
Martha Smalley is special collections librarian and curator of the Day Missions Collection at the Yale Divinity Library.