Amelia Witt

Department of History

Research student
11-12pm Wednesdays

Full contact details

Amelia Witt
Department of History
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

Thesis title: A Body of Affliction: Disability, Disease and Death in Missionary Writing about the ‘Antipodes’, c. 1840-1900




Thesis abstract:

Although the study of missionaries in the British Empire has been vastly expanded in the last few decades, the scope of this research has often been limited to that of Asia and Africa, and without much consideration for the body. This thesis seeks to explore representations of the Indigenous body in British Protestant missionary writing from 1840-1900, based in the regions of Australasia, Polynesia and Melanesia.

Using textual examples from published missionary periodicals – aimed at both adults and children – alongside contemporary non-fiction and travel writing, I concentrate on three major elements: disabled Indigenous children, epidemics and sickness, and constructions of Indigenous death and the deceased.

First, my thesis explores how disabled Indigenous children were represented in children’s missionary literature, an oxymoron of pity and disgust that demonstrated the complex intersections between the body and race. Following this, I consider the ways missionaries portrayed the disastrous effects of European contagion on Indigenous populations, alongside the dramatic requests for conversion from highborn tribal nobility, demonstrating the apparent success of missionary expansion. Finally, I delve into a common trope of missionary writing, the death bed narrative, in the context of Australasia, Polynesia and Melanesia. 

My research aims to contribute to current historiography by expanding study into the geographical regions of Australasia, Polynesia and Melanesia – namely Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, and the Cook Islands – whilst also diversifying research from that of the solely able -bodied to one that encompasses the body at all levels of health and ability.

  • PhD History, University of Sheffield, 2021 - present
  • MA Media Practice for Development and Social Change, University of Sussex, 2020
  • BA (Hons) History, Royal Holloway University of London, 2018
Teaching activities

Teaching Assistant 2022-23 academic year:

  • HST119 - The Transformation of the United Kingdom, 1800 to the Present
Publications and Conferences
  • ‘The Death Bed Narrative in Nineteenth-Century Church Missionary Society Periodicals’ - Image(s) and Identity, Language, Texts and Society Annual Conference, Nottingham, July 2022