Missionaries often find themselves in disparate places all over the world, and even though their primary role is not to be photographers, many have a camera in hand to capture the landscape, people, rituals, homes, costumes, daily activities, ministry activities, staff group shots, and more. Sometimes the images are intended for use in prayer letters or marketing efforts by their agency or sending church. Other times missionaries, like amateur anthropologists, are perhaps among the first to photograph a people group, such as Elisabeth Elliot’s shots of the Waodani people in Ecuador.
As we archivists say to budding researchers, understanding why a document is created (including photographs) is one key to interpreting the document. Knowing the original contexts and the intended use of these photographs helps us understand them more deeply.
Maps are a common feature of archival collections, and the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is no exception. The Archives’ oversize storage cases contain a wide variety of maps—thematic, navigational, topographical, and even blueprints—used for diverse range of research topics and as a popular tool in archival instruction sessions. As primary sources, maps require a specific set of skills to “read” and interpret. Like all items held in the Archives, maps are social documents, reflecting both the intentions and abilities of their creators (cartographers) as well as the needs and expectations of their anticipated users. Maps tell stories. While a single map can capture a landscape, metropolitan grid, or continent frozen in time, a series of maps can document gradual or abrupt change, like shifting national or regional boundaries, erosion of natural landmarks, or rapid urbanization. No map, however extensive or detailed, can be entirely authoritative. They are not neutral documents—maps reveal the political and cultural perspectives and biases of their creators. They can erase as well as document borders, languages, people groups, or landmarks. Finally, maps are frequently described in purely functional terms, providing information and direction to users, but in many cases they are also highly ornamental, utilizing artistic techniques to feature specific geographical or topographical features.
For a brief moment in 1941, the attention of the Western world was transfixed by the unknown fate of the Zamzam, an aging cargo and passenger ship en route from the United States to Cape Town, South Africa. Built in 1909 as a British luxury liner and christened Leicestershire, the vessel was requisitioned to carry British troops during World War I. In peacetime, the steamer was purchased by an Egyptian company and renamed in honor of the Zamzam Well in Mecca, a holy site for Muslim pilgrims. Over the next decade, the Zamzam served primarily as a passenger ship ferrying pilgrims to the holy city of Mecca, but by 1940, its ownersbroadened services to transatlantic travelers and cargo. On March 20, 1941, the Zamzam sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey for Alexandria, Egypt, with planned stops at Baltimore, Trinidad, Recife, Cape Town, and Mombasa. Between passengers and crew, the Zamzam featured a truly international cast of characters—the Scottish captain and chief engineer, Greek stewards, Egyptian and Sudanese crew, and passengers from around the globe. The Zamzam’s passenger list featured 202 names, including twenty-four members of the British-American Ambulance Corps, traveling to North Africa to serve as noncombatants with the Allied forces. But the largest passenger contingent by far was American and British missionaries bound for Africa. Over 140 Christian workers, including 17 Roman Catholics and members of twenty-one Protestant denominational and independent faith missions, boarded the Zamzam, eager to begin Christian service across the African continent. But the aging steamer never reached its home port in Alexandria. In the early hours of April 17, 1941, the unarmed civilian vessel was shelled and sunk by the German surface raider, Atlantis, off the coast of southwestern Africa. This April, the Archives highlights the voices of missionaries who survived the final voyage of the Zamzam, a straightforward transatlantic crossing turned international event, eighty years ago this month.
As the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives greets New Year 2020, we remember with thanks the accessions of 2019. Every profession has its own special terminology, rarely used by those outside it. Architects have muntin. Archivists have accession. We share the word with libraries, museums, and some monarchs. As a verb (in archival usage), to accession or accessioning means logging a new item into our collections. As a noun, it refers to an individual addition, which might be a single photograph or hundreds of boxes of correspondence. Archivists accept diverse material from a wide variety of sources and are much more inclined to collect than divest materials (although in recent years deaccessioning has become more of a priority among institutions). For the Archives, 2019 will always be remembered as the year when the records from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that had been deposited in the Archives were returned to the BGEA at its request. But it was also a year that brought a variety of significant, unusual, and wonderful additions.
Every once in a while, acquisitions in a given year seem to follow a specific theme. In 2018 we received several large collections of private papers by prominent figures in evangelistic ministry, including Merrill Dunlop, Luis Palau, Merv Rosell, and George Beverly Shea. On the other hand, 2019 was the year of the authors. Individuals who had written significant books on evangelism and /or evangelical history contributed their research files, which included boxes and boxes of letters, transcripts, audio recordings, photos, and more that they had gathered. For example, Valarie Elliot Shepard donated the letters her parents had written to each other during their courtship, which formed the basis of her book, Devoted: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot (2019) The gift also included Jim Elliot’s papers from his days as a Wheaton College student. The Elliots were best known for their involvement in evangelism among the Waorani people of Ecuador. The Waorani had never heard the Christian gospel, and Jim and five other men formed a project to reach them. On January 6, 1956 after an initial friendly contact, all five men were killed by members of the tribe. In October 1958, Elisabeth, along with Rachael Saint, the sister of one of the five, and three-year old Valerie traveled into the jungle to live among the Waorani and begin the work that was to bring many of them to faith in Jesus Christ.