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Missionaries in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa


Admission requirements

History students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars.


This is a history/anthropology seminar course that is part of the track history/anthropology in the BA Languages and cultures of Africa.

The course seeks to understand the changing meanings and relevance of missionaries in colonial and post-colonial Africa. Missionaries have always been agents of social change. Missionaries who came to Africa in the 20th century were mediators between two worlds, and they brought many new ideas and skills to the societies where they landed. In the post-colonial period Africa has produced her own missionaries who have become missionaries in Europe and the US like the Pentecostals. Also, the ‘traditional’ religious missionary is increasingly part of the social dynamics of the African diaspora in Europe nowadays. We analyse these dynamics through the lens of media theory. We will understand the missionaries and their institutes as a form of technology of communication, a ‘tool’ of mediatization. Such a theoretical starting point will help us to analyze missionaries beyond religion and situate them in the analysis of social change. The role of technology in social change is very crucial.

In this course, we start from an understanding of the (re)construction of history at the basis of primary sources, such as archives, interviews, visuals. We combine historical and anthropological methods. The students will explore missionaries and their institute both in historical periods as can be found in archives, and in contemporary diasporic situations. Examples of the latter are retired missionaries who have worked in Africa and the “new’ missionaries such as the Pentecostal missionaries who have churches in the Hague and Rotterdam. To ‘discover’ the missionary and its institutes as mediatization processes the students will work in mission and private archives in the Netherlands (found at Oosterbeek, Lisse and Utrecht); or they conduct interviews with missionaries who are still active in the Netherlands. Another choice can be to interview and work with retired missionaries in their missionary houses (situated in Breda for instance).

With the migration flow many people especially the missionaries moved to other parts of the world mostly America to Asia and Africa. These missionaries came back home with a lot of stories, diaries and photographs. Nowadays the migration flows is the coming of traditional African missionaries coming to Europe and America from Africa.The course also entails one excursion to the Catherijne Convent, which is the museum of religion in Utrecht. It is currently working on an exhibition about migration and Christianity in the Netherlands. It talks about a.o. the influence of Christians coming from Africa. During the semester if it is already on display then it will be worth visiting it. See:
The relationship between migration and Christianity.

The course consists of the following parts:
1. Discussion of case studies from the research of the lecturer and based on existing studies like those of Harri Englund, Birgit Meyer, Paul Ladau and Rijk van Dijk.
2. Media and communication technology theory: how does this apply to missionaries?
3. Methodology: archival research and the biographical method
4. Orientation on the research: Orientation on the topic, aim (choice of methodology, planning
5. Students will develop their own research that results in a paper; part of the paper is a reflection on the collected archive or data and or biographical interviews with missionaries on audio.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

By the end of this course, the students are expected to have acquired the following:

  • 1) Conduct and execute academic research within a defined scope, including:
    a. organizing and using relatively large amounts of information
    b. identifying and selecting relevant literature
    c. placing their own research within the context of a scholarly debate

  • 2) Write a problem-based essay and give an oral presentation following the format defined in the Syllabus Themacolleges, including:
    a. using a realistic work schedule
    b. formulating a realistic research question and sub-questions
    c. formulating a reasoned conclusion
    d. giving and receiving feedback
    e. responding to the instructions of the lecturer

  • 3) Reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based

  • 4) Select and use primary sources in their own research

  • 5) Analyze primary sources and place and interpret them in their historical context

  • 6) Actively participate in class discussions

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 7) The student has knowledge of a specialization(s) to which the BA Seminar belongs; more specifically in the specialisation General History: of the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions; in history and anthropology of European missionaries in Africa and African missionaries in Europe especially in the Netherlands.

  • 8) The student has knowledge and understanding of the core concepts, research methods, and techniques of the specialisation General History, with special attention for the study of primary sources and the relativity of nationally defined histories.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

By the end of this course, the student have acquired the following:

  • 9) knowledge of the historiography and historical anthropology of Africa;

  • 10) knowledge of the historiography of the shared history of missionaries archival, library, and museum collections in the Netherlands;

  • 11) ability to identify primary sources, select sources, critique sources, and apply sources in an academic essay.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures, seminars and online depending on the circumstances demand; accompanying students in their research; excursion.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6000-7000 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, excluding front page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-5, 9-11

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-5, 9-11

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 6, 9-10


Written paper and research: 70%
Oral presentation: 20%
Participation: 10%


Written papers should be handed in on or before the given deadline


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

  • Agebti, Kofi. West African Church History: Christian Missions and Church Foundations, 1482- 1919. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986.

  • Ajayi, J. F. Ade. Christian missions in Nigeria, 1841-1891: the making of a new élite. London: Longmans, 1965.

  • Meyer, Birgit 2004. “Christianity in Africa: From African Independent to Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches” Annual Review of Anthropology , Vol. 33 (2004), pp. 447-474

  • Anderson, J. Struggle for the School: Interaction of Missionary, Colonial Government and Nationalist Enterprise in the Development of Formal Education in Kenya. London: Longman, 1970.

  • Ayandele, Emmanuel A. “The Missionary Factor in Northern Nigeria, 1870-1918.” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 3, no. 3 (1966): 503-522.

  • Baten, Jörg, and Gabriele Cappelli. “The Evolution of Human Capital in Africa, 1730-1970: a Colonial Legacy?” CEPR Discussion Paper no. 11273 (2016).

  • Cagé, Julia, and Valeria Rueda. “The Long-Term Effects of the Printing Press in Sub-Saharan Africa.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 8, no. 3 (2016): 1-31.

  • Cagé, Julia, and Valeria Rueda. “Sex and the Mission: The conflicting effects of early Christian investments on the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.” Unpublished manuscript, University of Oxford, 2019.

  • Cogneau, Denis, and Alexander Moradi. “Borders that Divide: Education and Religion in Ghana and Togo since Colonial Times.” Journal of Economic History 74, no. 3 (2014): 694-729.


Registration takes place via a form that is sent to all History students on the day registrations open.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats