Peggy Brock – Indigenous Christians’ Ethnographic Writings

Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below

An international & interdisciplinary conference

Phillipe de Vigors, ‘Convicts letter writing at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, 1849’
Reproduced by kind permission of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney


Event Dates: 25 June 2010
Bristol, UK

Peggy Brock, Edith Cowan University
Indigenous Christians’ Ethnographic Writings

Scholars are increasingly aware of the close collaborations between Christian missions in British colonies and anthropologists. Anthropologists often based themselves at missions, relying on the knowledge and experience of missionaries to facilitate their access to Indigenous societies. Many missionaries also took an interest in Indigenous societies, writing extensive ethnographic descriptions of the peoples among whom they lived and worked. However, relatively little research has been undertaken on the Indigenous informants of both secular and missionary ethnographers, or on the ethnographic works written by first generation Christians. These people were in a unique situation – many having grown up in pre-missionized and/or pre-colonial societies before becoming literate and gaining an objectified distance from their own societies. Their ethnographic writings were influenced both by their firsthand experience and deep knowledge of their own societies, and the expectations of the distant Christian and scientific readership of their published work.

In this paper I will discuss the influence of Christian and anthropological ideas on the ethnographic writings of Indigenous Christians in southern Africa, the Pacific and Canada. The issues I intend to address are: how were these texts shaped; were they written under the direction of missionaries, or independently of them; to what extent did they reflect contemporary anthropological paradigms; and for which audiences were they produced?

Peggy Brock, Edith Cowan University, email
Peggy Brock is Professor of Colonial & Indigenous History at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. She is the author of many books and articles including: Outback Ghettos. A History of Aboriginal Institutionalisation and Survival (Melbourne, 1993) and Negotiating Colonialism: the Life and Times of Arthur Wellington Clah (UBC Press, forthcoming). She is also editor of Indigenous Peoples and Religious Change (Leiden, 2005) and Words and Silences. Aboriginal Women, Politics and Land (Sydney, 2001).








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