Photographs in the Archives, Manuscripts and Rare Books Division

There are approximately 26,000 photographs in the Archives and Manuscripts division of the Library which have been donated or deposited with archives or private papers collections. Most photographs concern Asia and Africa. However the collection of Missionary photographs includes a number of images of the Caribbean and Central America.

Missionary Photographs on Latin America and the Caribbean

SOAS Library holds an important and expanding collection of missionary archives relating to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific. About two thirds of the holdings document the presence and work of British Protestant missionaries, in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific area. There are approximately 950,000 documents, including some 19,000 photographs. Organisations represented include the Council for World Mission, the Methodist Missionary Society, the Conference of British Missionary Societies and Christian Aid.

The photography collection comprises albums, photographic prints, glass-plate negatives and lantern slides. For the most part they form part of the official archive and were used by the various missionary societies in publications and as illustrations for exhibitions and lectures. A number of photographs are marked up for publication. Other photographs have been received with collections of papers of individual missionaries and are more informal and personal in nature.

The range of subjects covered by the collections is vast, showing groups of converts, pupils, medical and mission staff and mission buildings as well as depicting the lives, work and pursuits of indigenous peoples; means of transport; historical events and topographical scenes.

Significant holdings on the Caribbean and Central America are to be found in the archives of the Methodist Missionary Society and the Council for World Mission (formerly the London Missionary Society). Detailed catalogues are available on the SOAS Archive website.

Catalogue and consultation

Online catalogue:

Archives and manuscripts are consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room, situated on Floor F of the Library.

A selection of over 2,000 images from the missionary archives held at SOAS have been digitised and are available on the Internet Mission Photography Archive.

The Internet Mission Photography Archive offers historical images from Protestant and Catholic missionary collections in Britain, Norway, Germany, and the United States. The photographs, which range in time from the middle of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century, offer a visual record of missionary activities and experiences in Africa, China, Madagascar, India, Papua-New Guinea, and the Caribbean. The photographs reveal the physical influence of missions, visible in mission compounds, churches, and school buildings, as well as the cultural impact of mission teaching, religious practices, and Western technology and fashions. Indigenous peoples’ responses to missions and the emergence of indigenous churches are represented, as are views of landscapes, cities, and towns before and in the early stages of modern development.

Archives, Manuscripts and Rare Books Division
The Library
Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7898 4180
Fax: +44 (0)20 7898 4189
SOAS Library Website:
Opening times

9am-5pm, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

The Archives are normally open on one Saturday morning a month, between 9.30am-1pm. Material to be consulted must be ordered in advance. Dates of Saturday openings are advertised on the archives’ news pages.

Access to the collections
  • A free reference ticket is available to academic staff from UK and overseas universities.
  • UK PhD and MPhil research students can also apply for a free reference ticket.
  • Other researchers, including students from overseas institutions, and private researchers can apply for a free archives ticket, but you will need a letter of recommendation.
  • Students should bring a letter from their supervisor explaining their needs.
  • Private researchers or members of the public need a letter from the appropriate depositor