"Truth of any kind is food for the soul."

The Rev. Jesse Caswell, 1841

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Interconnected Baptist Missions: Siam, China, & Burma

In her 1913 book on Baptist missionary history entitled, Following the Sunrise: A Century of Baptist Missions, 1813-1913 (Philadelphia, 1913), Helen Barrett Montgomery observes in a brief introduction to early Baptist work in Siam that, "The story of American Baptist missionary work in China, strangely enough, does not begin in China, but in Siam, where it is interwoven with the story of missions in Burma." (p. 146)  Her observation highlights one of the most fascinating challenges facing those who "dabble" in the history of the Christian movement in Thailand, namely the way in which it connects to so much else in so many other places.  Leaving aside whether or not the history of Protestant missions in China actually begins in Bangkok or not, the history of 19th century Baptist missions in Siam is tied to the development of Baptist missions in Burma and profoundly influenced by the opening of China to Protestant missions.  In my own research on the Presbyterians, I have found myself repeatedly drawn into the orbit of other histories including even that of
British India, which bordered the northern Thai states in the era of the Presbyterian Laos Mission ("Laos" here referring to those northern states that were tributary to Siam, not modern-day Laos).  For me, one of the most fascinating "cognate" fields of study for the history of the church in Thailand is Protestant missions history among the American Indians.  Many of the themes are the same, the experiences are similar, and there was even at least one Presbyterian missionary, Jonathan Wilson, who first served out on the plains of the American West before he became a missionary in Siam and then in the North.

In an almost paradoxical way, then, the field of Thai Christian historical studies is an incredibly minor and modest field of immense, nearly global proportions.  What fun!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Siam Repository

The Siam Repository, published by the Baptist missionary Samuel J. Smith, is one of the key sources for earlier church history in Siam.  According to Patricia M. Herbert and Anthony Milner, South-East Asia: Languages and Literatures : a Select Guide (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989), page 30, it was published from 1869 to 1874.  Most of the volumes are available online on the Google Books, Internet Archives, or the Hathitrust websites.  It does, however,  take some patience to sort out the results of a Google search of "Siam Repository."  That is pretty much the story for searching any of the 19th century missionary serials.

It turns out that all five volumes of the Siam Repository are also available in hard copy and PDF formats through Rare Book Clubs (here) for a charge, of course.  Purchasers are warned, "Books marked 'PDF/scan' may have notations, faded type, yellowed paper, missing or skewed pages, etc. Paperbacks marked 'OCR' may have numerous typos, missing text, with no illustrations or indexes."  The PDFs can be downloaded from the book club website, but hard copies have to be purchased through other sellers.  They are available at Amazon (here).  The hard copies are not reprints.  The originals were scanned, and anyone who has used scanned material knows what a mess the results can be.  There are also two or more versions for some volumes, and it is not clear what the differences in the versions are.

In any event, chalk the availability of the Siam Repository in various forms and formats as one more example of how Internet has radically transformed the study of Thai church and missions history.  It has made a great variety of 19th and early 20th century sources available online.  While finding what is on the Web is a real hassle, the fact is that large amounts of published historical material are there waiting to be found—and when found then always immediately available thereafter.