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.
One of the joys of archives and archival work is the opportunity the collections offer to explore the great variety of human invention and artistry across both time and space, as well as the ways in which common ideas and images endure through different cultures and generations.
As people all around the world begin their celebrations of Advent, this month we delve into the many intriguing variations in our collections on one of the most enduring of Christmas images – the Nativity.
From the origins of the story of Jesus Christ’s birth in the world of first century Palestine, to Western Europe and North America, and across the globe in India, China, and the Philippines, a review of just a few of the images of the nativity held by the Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections demonstrates the many ways the Christmas story has been reflected and reimagined in a myriad of different times and places.