Mission Printing Presses and Hymns in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa

Activity: Talk or presentationSymposium


‘We must have a press,’ pleaded Fr Herbert Kelly, Superior of the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM), in a report written in 1902. Kelly was writing about the recently established SSM mission in South Africa, based at Modderpoort in the (then) Orange River Colony, and his call shows us that printing presses were a vital part of missionary work. Presses enabled missionaries to produce, amongst other things, hymn books: collections of texts which disseminated their ideas, beliefs, and music. Yet, as missionaries found, there was often a tension between the value they placed on printed materials, on the one hand, and, on the other, their usefulness in situations where most people were unable to read because literacy had been (and continued to be) largely oral-based. In this paper, I discuss this tension with reference to hymns, possibly the form of text that was most abundantly produced by mission presses. To explore how printing presses and collections of hymns were used to create and curate new forms of knowledge I will present some provisional findings based on research work undertaken in the SSM Archive held at the Borthwick Institute, University of York.
Period4 May 2023
Event titleCollecting and Curating: Power, Material Wealth and Cultural Knowledge, Past and Present
Event typeConference
LocationYork, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational