Papers of John Houldsworth Oldham, D.D.

Scope and Content

  • Correspondence, newspaper cuttings, memoranda, reports, etc.relating to Oldham's research into East Africa, 1924-1938
  • Correspondence, etc. relating to the Commission on Closer Union of theDependencies in Eastern and Central Africa (Hilton Young Commission), 1922-1933
  • Correspondence with African governors and officials, 1924-1935
  • Correspondence, memoranda, journals, newspaper cuttings, etc. relatingto Africa in general, 1922-1937
  • Reports on African labour, rural conditions and education, [1924-1936]
  • Minutes, memoranda, notes, correspondence, etc. relating to missions,education and Africa Councils, 1918-1958
  • Reports, memoranda, printed papers, correspondence, etc. relating tolabour and education in Africa, 1919-1945
  • Miscellaneous papers, including on Africa, Asia and the New Hebrides,[1921-1953]

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Oldham (1874-1969) was born in Bombay and educated at the EdinburghAcademy and Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1897. He developedan interest in the student Christian movement and subsequently worked asSecretary of the Scottish YMCA in Lahore, India. After being invalided homethree years later, he entered New College, Edinburgh in 1901, where he begana course of theological studies. Though he was never ordained, he studiedmissionary theory and practice until 1908 and was appointed Organizingsecretary for the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910. He was thenretained as Secretary to the Edinburgh Continuation Committee, which continuedthe Conference's work.

In 1912 he became editor of the International Review of Missions (Edinburgh, s.d., 1912-) and for fifteenyears travelled extensively, interesting himself in forced labour, the educationof dependent peoples and relations between races. He found himself acting asmediator between settlers and Indians in Kenya and forged a friendship withFrederick Dealtry Lugard, Baron Lugard of Abinger with whom, after proposingthe formation of the Advisory Committee on Native Education in tropical Africa,he collaborated in drafting a first policy statement on African education.He also organized the first conference between missionaries and colonialadministrators on education in 1926 and visited educational institutions fornegroes in the USA, where he established contacts which proved useful when heand Lugard later created the International Institute of African Languagesand Cultures (of which Oldham was Administrative Director 1931-1938). Together,Oldham and Lugard encouraged research in anthropology and semantics, andprovided fellowships for academics.

Oldham was awarded the honorary degree ofDoctor of Divinity by Edinburgh University in 1931 and made Chairman of theResearch Committee of the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work.In 1937 he organized the World Conference on Church, Community and State atOxford, helped Archbishop Temple establish a world ecumenical movement, andwas awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford. His books include Christianity and the Race Problem (London,Student Christian Movement, 1924) and New Hope inAfrica [On the aims of the Capricorn Africa Society] (London, Longmans,Green&Co., 1955).


Oldham's own arrangement of his papers has been recreated as far as possible.Lists and analyses of the archive made at one time by Dame Margery Perham's researchassistants are to be found in her papers.

Much of the material is relatedto the combined archive accumulated by the International MissionaryConference and the Congress of British Missionary Societies. Wherever it hasbeen possible to trace a link with that archive, a note has been made in thehandlist.

Access Information

Bodleian reader's ticket required.


Collection level description created by Paul Davidson, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.

Other Finding Aids

Listed as no. 820 in Manuscript Collections in Rhodes House Library Oxford, Accessions 1978-1994 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1996). A handlist is also available in the library reading room.

Conditions Governing Use

No reproduction or publication of personal papers without permission. Contact the library in the first instance.

Custodial History

Oldham gave this collection of papers to Dame Margery Perham in 1957 and 1964for use in preparing a biography of Lord Lugard and a study of the politicalsituation in East Africa between 1929 and 1931. The majority of this collectionwas trsansferred by her to the library in 1977. A few files had become detachedand misplaced among her own papers, but when her archive was deposited byher executors in 1982, these were restored to their proper context.

Related Material

File of correspondence between Oldham and Rowland Skeffington Hudson, mainlyon matters relating to the Capricorn Africa Society, 1954-1956 (ref. MSS.Afr. s. 1381);papers of Frederick Dealtry Lugard, Baron Lugard of Abinger (ref. MSS. Brit.Emp. s. 30-99); papers of Dame Margery Freda Perham (ref. MSS. Perham);the library holds a copy of the report of the Commission on Closer Union of theDependencies in Eastern and Central Africa (ref. 740.13 r. 2); the combined archive of related material accumulated by the InternationalMissionary Conference and the Congress of British Missionary Societies is heldby the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.