Dr Jonathan Hicks, lecturer in music, has presented on the Victorian favourite "Onward, Christian Soldier" as part of a study day on hymns and race hosted by Durham University.
Jo Hicks presented a paper titled "Whither, Christian Soldiers?" as part of a recent study day on Hymns and Race: Agency, Mobility, Coloniality hosted by Durham University's Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies. You can read the abstract below.
There are few more explicit documents of the interconnection of hymnody, mobility, and coloniality than the 1939 film Stanley and Livingstone. It retells the famous tale of a journalist tracking a “lost” missionary to the north-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The scene in which Livingstone leads his hosts in a rendition of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” has become a touchstone for discussion of the Hollywood portrayal of Black African history. Building on this work, my presentation lends a musicological ear to this imagined performance as well as two further, less remarked uses of the same hymn in Stanley and Livingstone (as the underscore for a map-crossing sequence and as a nostalgic motif for the titular missionary). Opening out from such close readings, my paper uses the broader history of "Onward, Christian Soldiers” to consider the performative politics of music, movement, and empire. My title, then, is not a rhetorical question so much as a heuristic technique to foreground the forward motion apparent in any call to crusade, even when the destination is ill-defined. Rather than dismissing this hymn as only a monument to empire building, I suggest more critical focus should be given to its role in momentum building.