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Ever-Widening Horizon

“An Ever-Widening Horizon”: a Two-Day Workshop on the Methodist Missions´ Photo Albums for Historians and Visual Studies Scholars (June 11th-12th, 2015)

In their history of American Methodism, Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe and Jean Miller Schmidt define the half century beginning in the mid-1880s as the time that was devoted to “rethinking mission.” As the United States was awaking to its ambition and responsibility as a major world power, its most influential denomination felt the need to answer the call of “an ever-widening horizon.”[1] It also implied new strategies, methods and policies, including the adoption of new visual forms of communication – a trend which culminated in the 1919 Columbus exhibition celebrating the centenary of Methodist missions.[2]

This two-day workshop sponsored by The United Methodist Church´s General Commission on Archives and History, by the Labex TransferS (ENS, CNRS, Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris), Drew Theological Seminary and Drew University Library, is an invitation to explore and to understand Methodism´s expanding visual culture, and the ever-widening horizon of photographic practices at the turn of the 20th-century.

Housed on the campus of Drew University in Madison, NJ, the United Methodist Church´s General Commission on Archives and History is the place where the pictures garnered from every corner of the world can now be found. The entire collection amounts to 203 “mission albums,” and an estimated 250,000 photographs. [3] Although a couple of studies have endeavored to present the scope of this series, and to give an overview of its principal characteristics [4], much work remains to be done to understand the way the archive was created, indexed and used to constitute a visual record of the world as seen through missionary eyes. Today, as the GCAH is in the process of putting the collection online and to make it more widely available for scholars and students as well as the general public, in-depth studies are needed to better understand the meaning and impact of the collection, and help diversify theoretical approaches to the history of the visual culture of missions. The workshop that will take place on Jun 11-12, 2015 (plan to arrive on June 10, 2015) in Madison is an opportunity for scholars interested in US visual culture to discover this invaluable collection, and to initiate this much-needed work.

We would like to invite scholars of photo history and visual studies, preferably with an interest in transnational themes and methods, to attend a two-day seminar and develop new research projects focusing on the collection. Topics include – but are not limited to – missionary work and visual culture on all five continents, photographic practice and representation in home missions, the production of photography by women missionaries. A good knowledge about or experience in one of the mission fields covered by the Methodist missionary board is evidently a plus, as most photographs were taken abroad. Still, several albums cover home missions among immigrant communities or Native American people.

Participants will hear several presentations on Methodist history and missiology, as well as the archive itself. They will then be free to look at the material they find most promising, based on their own interests. They will be assisted in this work by the archive´s staff.

We are hoping that this first contact with the mission albums will lead to long-term project and collaboration. In the short-run, we are hoping that participants in the workshop can take advantage of their stay in Madison to contribute short texts to the archive´s website and more specifically to the online albums. At the end of the workshop, each participant will be asked to choose one photograph and write a short commentary that can be added to the website and enhance its education and scholarly value for online visitors of the archive

Lodging, travel to and from the airport, and most meals will be covered for participants.

To view digitized copies of the albums please visit our on-line collection (

Please send a short curriculum and a 600-to-800 word application before October 31st to:

General Commission on Archives and History, Labex TransferS, Drew Theological Seminary,  Drew University Library




Christopher J. Anderson (Head of Special Collections, University Archives, and Methodist Librarian)
Didier Aubert (Associate Professor in American Studies, Sorbonne Nouvelle University – TransferS)
Dale Paterson (Archivist, General Commission on Archives and History of The United Methodist Church)
Morris Davis (Associate Dean for Academic Affairs)

 [1] Russell E. Richey, et al, American Methodism: A Compact History, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2012, p. 127.

[2] Christopher J. Anderson, The Centenary Celebration of American Methodist Missions: The 1919 World´s Fair of Evangelical Americanism, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2012.

[3] Dale Kaplan (sic), Unitled Report. Historical Photograph Collection - Missions Scrapbook Collection (1 of 2). Records of the Mission Education and Cultivation Program Department of the General Board of Global Ministries.

 [4] Daile Kaplan, Missionary chronicles : photographic documentation of the human condition preserved in the historical photo collection of the United Methodist Church, c1900-1925 , Philadelphia: The Gallery, 1982; Morris L. Davis, “Early Twentieth Century U.S. Methodist Missions Photography: The Problems of ´´Home,” Methodist Review, 2(2010), pp. 33-67.