ABOUT MUNDUS


1. What is the Mundus Project?

2. How can the Mundus Gateway help researchers?

3. What does Mundus mean?

4. The missionary movement and its documentation

5. Missionary collections in the UK

6. How was the Mundus Gateway compiled?

7. What does it include/not include?

8. How can I obtain further information and access the collections?

9. The missionary thesaurus

10. Contact and feedback



1. What is the Mundus Project?

The Mundus project is a three-year project, funded by the Research Support Libraries Programme, to improve and facilitate access to missionary collections throughout the United Kingdom. The project runs from 1999 to 2002 and major partners are:

  • Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford
  • University of Birmingham Library/Orchard Learning Resources Centre (Selly Oak)
  • Cambridge University Library
  • Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, New College, Edinburgh
  • Edinburgh University Library
  • Rhodes House Library (Archive of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel)
  • School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London
  • University of London Computer Centre
During the course of the project 90 previously unlisted collections of papers (Edinburgh and Birmingham) and some 40,000 photographs (London and Oxford) were catalogued. On-line catalogues were created for major archival collections such as the British and Foreign Bible Society (Cambridge) and the Church Missionary Society (Birmingham) and more than 15,000 printed books relating to mission studies (Birmingham and London). Measures were also taken to improve the physical storage of fragile materials and to carry out conservation work on badly affected documents. The culmination of the project has been the creation of a web-based guide (the Mundus Gateway) to more than 500 collections of missionary materials in over 50 institutions in the United Kingdom. This webguide has been created and developed in the University of London where it will continue to be maintained.

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2. How can the Mundus Gateway help researchers?

The Mundus Gateway makes it easier for researchers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds to locate collections of missionary materials held within the UK that are relevant to their research. The Mundus database contains descriptions of more than 500 collections accumulated in Britain by individuals and societies engaged in the overseas missionary movement between the 18th and 20th centuries. The collections of archives, printed works, visual materials and artefacts are held in over 50 institutions in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Each description contains basic information about each collection: name, reference code, covering dates and extent of the material. An administrative or biographical history explains the background of the individual or organization who created the collection, while the scope and content field summarizes its content. Other information provided includes details of finding aids (with direct links to electronic finding aids where these exist), the language of the material, information about related materials, access conditions and copyright. In addition, up-to-date information is given about the location of the materials with a direct link to the holding institution where this is possible.

The Mundus Gateway offers a wide range of searching tools including freetext searches, name, place and subject searches, and searches using clickable maps. Click here for further information about Mundus searching.

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3. What does Mundus mean?

The missionary impulse is an aspect of religious zeal. To the fervent believer nothing is impossible: "the field is the world" (Matthew xiii 38) is an unambiguous statement and "go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel" (Mark xvi 15) is a straightforward instruction. The word Mundus harks back to the first great missionary world for which St Jerome translated the above lines: "ager autem est mundus" and "euntes in mundum universum praedicate evangelium".

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4. The missionary movement and its documentation

From the 18th to the middle of the 20th centuries missionaries from the United Kingdom went in ever-increasing numbers to all parts of the globe seeking converts to Christianity. At its height, between 1880 and 1920, some 60 societies were actively engaged in this work with many thousands of missionaries going out to the mission field. Very large amounts of missionary materials have in consequence been created, comprising archives, personal papers, books and pamphlets, published annual reports, missionary magazines, photographs, films, sound recordings and artefacts. These materials document from an early date, in both written and visual form, the encounter between Western missionaries and the peoples and terrain of Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Americas, and are being increasingly used and appreciated by scholars from a variety of disciplines.

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5. Missionary collections in the UK

Until the 1970s, missionary society archives and libraries were still to be found in the offices of their parent organisations but since that time many have been dispersed and can now be found in national, university and other repositories in various parts of the country. Many personal collections have also been deposited in libraries and record offices. Missionary training institutes have accumulated both printed and unpublished materials. Artefacts from former missionary society museum collections are to be found in a number of museums together with associated documentation. Vast numbers of photographs, including glass plate negatives and lantern slides, taken of or by missionaries, exist in both private and public collections.

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6. How was the Mundus Gateway compiled?

The Mundus Gateway was compiled by project staff (Project Director, Rosemary Seton, and Project Officer, Caroline Brick) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), with technical assistance from staff at the University of London Computer Centre. The starting point of the work was A preliminary guide to the archives of British missionary societies compiled in 1992 by Rosemary Seton and Emily Naish. A wider survey, to include collections of private papers and printed books, was carried out in 2000 and 2001 and work began on the construction of the database in the autumn and winter of 2001 to 2002. Data entry of the collection-level descriptions commenced in March and was completed by October 2002. It is important to acknowledge the very willing assistance given by staff at the various institutions contacted and also by project staff of other networking projects, particularly AIM25 and the UK Higher Education Archives Hub.

The collection-level descriptions are constructed to a standard known as ISAD(G), which is the agreed international standard for archival description. For collection-level descriptions of non-archival collections suitable additional fields have been created, based on the RSLP collection description model. Rules of the National Council on Archives have been followed in the indexing of personal names, corporate and place names. Other authorities consulted were the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names and the Times atlas of the world. Subject indexing has been based on the UNESCO Thesaurus with additional terms devised by SOAS Archives Staff for the indexing of missionary collections. For further information see Paragraph 9 below.

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7. What does it include/not include?

The collections described in the Mundus database relate to overseas missionary work chiefly during the 18th, 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Overseas missionary work commenced after 1970 has not been included, nor has home based mission work, such as town and city missions. Researchers interested in such missions are advised to contact record offices and libraries in the respective localities. The National Archives' ARCHON Directory provides a good starting-point.

While every effort has been made to include information about Catholic missionary work, most of the organizations and individuals included in the database belong to the Protestant tradition. The archives of Roman Catholic missionary societies are, for the most part, located in their motherhouses on the European continent though some information about UK provincial archives is provided, as are details of British-based Catholic missionary societies. Good collections of printed materials relating to the work of Catholic missions are held by, among others, the British Library and the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies.

The Mundus Gateway maps and summarises the content of missionary collections in the UK but does not provide detailed finding aids or on-line catalogues. For further details on finding aids, refer to paragraph 8 below. Digital images of documents are not presently included in the Mundus database though a selection of photographic and other visual images is displayed in the Mundus Gallery.

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8. How can I obtain further information and access the collections?

To consult detailed finding aids and on-line catalogues to the collections described in the Mundus Gateway use the link provided in the finding aids field in the description. To contact the institution holding materials in which you are interested use the "Site details" button on the Browse pages. You must contact the institution yourself. Mundus cannot make arrangements for you to access the materials or send further information about them.

For information about missionary materials held in overseas countries use the Links pages.

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9. The missionary thesaurus

During the course of indexing missionary collections at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) it became clear that while the UNESCO Thesaurus, which was being used increasingly by British archivists as an indexing tool, was perfectly adequate for broader cultural terms it was in need of development for specific religious and missionary terms. The SOAS Archives team has therefore drawn up a list of terms to be used in the cataloguing of missionary collections, based as far as possible on the UNESCO Thesaurus, but supplying other terms, either drawn from other thesauri or supplied by the team after internal and external discussion.

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10. Contact and feedback

The Mundus database is maintained by staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies. They will be most grateful for further information about any of the collections described in the database, for information about new collections and for any errors of fact contained in our existing descriptions.

Contact: docenquiry@soas.ac.uk.

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