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Finding Photos in the International Missionary Photography Archive

The purpose of this guide is to provide tips and techniques in searching the USC Digital Library to find photographs in the International Missionary Photography Archive


Photograph of "Sister Dominic Marie in Toishan, Kongmoon. Sisters stands near a window looking into a microscope. On the table in front of the microscope is an open book. Near her wrist on the table is a pad of paper.International Mission Photography Archive (IMPA)

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The historical images in the International Mission Photography Archive come from Protestant and Catholic missionary collections held at a number of centers in Britain, Europe, and North America. The photographs record missionary endeavors and reflect the missionaries’ experience of communities and environments abroad. There are examples of the physical influence the mission presence brought –seen in churches and their surrounding settlements-- as well as examples of the cultural impact of mission teaching and Western influence, including schools, hospitals, training programs, Christian practices, and Western technology and fashions. The pictures document indigenous peoples' responses to missions and the history of indigenous churches which are often now a major force in society. They also offer views of traditional culture, landscapes, cities, and towns before and in the early stages of modern development.

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The same cataloging procedures were used for all of the collections. Depending on the research goals, therefore, a person who uses the web site will be able to search through the images provided by one, several, or all of the collections, structuring the search and sorting the results according to the categories, descriptors, and keywords under which the images were cataloged as they were added to the database. Not all pictures will be accompanied by the same depth of documentation, but the goal is to include an original caption, the photographer’s name, and the time, place, occasion, and subject of the picture. Any other information that is available, including textual descriptions, has also been incorporated, making it possible to employ more refined descriptive and thematic searches. Although the language of the website is English, some descriptive information on the photographs is entered in the original language, so that searching on Norwegian or German terms can also yield useful results.

The project has been supported by grants from the Getty Grant Program (, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications program (, the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Preservation and Access (, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities (