Academic journal article Church History

The Function of Inaugural Editorials in Missionary Periodicals

Academic journal article Church History

The Function of Inaugural Editorials in Missionary Periodicals

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During the nineteenth century, over 300 missionary periodicals were established in Britain,18 along with hundreds in North America, Europe, and the colonial world, yet little has been written about the rationale behind their establishment.19 From their beginnings as sources of intelligence, periodicals developed into vehicles of influence by the first decades of the nineteenth century, with missionary organizations also using this reduplicated commodity to deliberately persuade and mold public attitudes.20 This article examines some thirty inaugural editorials and first volume prefaces to Protestant missionary periodicals, including those from "new series," to uncover how editors justified their establishment to their potential readership.

The growth in nineteenth-century evangelical Protestant missionary endeavors was reflected in increased numbers of missionary specific periodicals.21 Given the frequent presence of an "Editorial Notice," "Prospectus," "Introductory Remarks," "Unser Programm (our program)" or a more personable notice, such as "To our readers," in the inaugural issues it can be assumed that the establishment of a missionary periodical was not self evident, but required justification.22 These texts ranged from a short paragraph to ten pages long. Their positioning at the beginning of the periodical, or, very rarely, as an epilogue or "Salutatory,"23 was a didactical tool that encouraged the reading of the periodical in the way that the editor(s) intended.

The predominantly male editors of these publications sought to create distinct audiences. Society periodicals justified their establishment by acknowledging their need to communicate with their disparate members, supporters, and patrons as well as with young missionary societies such as the Presbyterian Church's Western Foreign Missionary Society, hoping that their periodical would help them become known.24 Denominational periodicals, such as the General Baptist Magazine, Repository, and Missionary Observer (London, 1854), noted in their preface the "bond of union, and as such a source of strength" provided by their publication.25 In contrast, intra-denominational, non-denominational and supra-societal publications reached beyond any defined, single audiences. These latter periodicals can be divided between a national model and a digest model. The American Missionary Register (New York, 1820), as a national supra-societal publication, explicitly stated the seven societies in the United States that they would report upon, and thus positioned itself as the national authority.26 An early periodical, the New York Missionary Magazine (New York, 1800) justified its establishment in fulfilling a national need so that the American readership could obtain intelligence about the "heathen" mission work in "our own land" from a local, not foreign, periodical.27 Such periodicals intentionally and actively created national church identities separate to international churches.28 Digest publications, such as Evangelisches Missions-Magazin (Basel, 1857), aimed to synthesize material from multiple languages, providing the lay audience with missionary news, reports, and book reviews that spanned denominational, linguistic, and geographical boundaries.29 Subsequent periodicals, such as the Allgemeine Missions-Zeitschrift (Gütersloh, 1874), followed this model,30 with digests advertising themselves as saving both time and money.31 The increase in cheap secular as well as religious periodicals from the 1820s, due to affordable access to technology,32 ensured that the affordability of publication was stressed within inaugural addresses of missionary periodicals, so that all could be privy to "the progress of truth and righteousness in heathen lands."33

I.

Respectability Through Didactic and Edifying Material

Nineteenth-century missionary periodicals aimed at respectability, by providing content that was informative, authoritative, edifying, and occasionally entertaining. …

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