Recent Works by Our Researchers
The Presbyterian Historical Society’s holdings support scholarship on a vast range of topics. On this page, we present a selection of recent publications by researchers who have worked with our collections.
For additional works focused on LGBTQIA+ history in the PC(USA), see the Pam Byers Memorial Collection page.
The Allure of Empire: American Encounters with Asians in the Age of Transpacific Expansion and Exclusion, by Chris Suh (Oxford University Press, March 2023)
The Allure of Empire traces how American ideas about race in the Pacific were made and remade on the imperial stage before World War II. Following the Russo-Japanese War, the United States cultivated an amicable relationship with Japan based on the belief that it was a "progressive" empire akin to its own. Even as the two nations competed for influence in Asia and clashed over immigration issues in the American West, the mutual respect for empire sustained their transpacific cooperation until Pearl Harbor, when both sides disavowed their history of collaboration and cast each other as incompatible enemies.
In recovering this lost history, Chris Suh reveals the surprising extent to which debates about Korea shaped the politics of interracial cooperation. American recognition of Japan as a suitable partner depended in part on a positive assessment of its colonial rule of Korea. It was not until news of Japan's violent suppression of Koreans soured this perception that the exclusion of Japanese immigrants became possible in the United States. Central to these shifts in opinion was the cooperation of various Asian elites aspiring to inclusion in a "progressive" American empire. By examining how Korean, Japanese, and other nonwhite groups appealed to the United States, this book demonstrates that the imperial order sustained itself through a particular form of interracial collaboration that did not disturb the existing racial hierarchy.
Flora Macdonald: "Pretty Young Rebel": Her Life and Story, by Flora Fraser (Knopf, January 2023)
After his decisive defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Prince Charles Edward Stuart was a man on the run. Seeking refuge in the Outer Hebrides, hoping to escape to France, he found an unlikely ally in Flora MacDonald, a young woman in her early twenties, loyal to the Stuarts. Disguising the prince as an Irish maid, petticoats and all, Flora conveyed Charles by boat to Skye, where they lodged safely with her family, until the prince’s inexpert handling of feminine attire caused concern, and he was persuaded to forgo the ruse before fleeing the area undetected. Flora never saw him again.
This famous incident led to Flora’s enduring appeal as a courageous Scottish heroine, inspiring and influencing countless novels, poems, and songs—most notably, the classic ballad “Skye Boat Song” adapted from a traditional tune in the late nineteenth century. But her remarkable life didn’t come to a close with her clandestine mission to Skye. Faced with a confession from one of the boatmen, Flora was arrested and taken to London on charges of treason, where under interrogation, she wittily deflected questions and staunchly defended her motives. She was eventually released under the 1747 Act of Indemnity, but disaster would befall her yet again: in 1774, Flora and her husband, Allan MacDonald, fled the impoverished highlands for a brighter future in Cross Creek, North Carolina—utterly unaware of the burgeoning revolution that would upend their lives there, with Allan imprisoned and Flora fleeing, penniless, back home to the Hebrides.
In this probing, evocative portrait of a tumultuous life, master historian Flora Fraser peels away the layers of misinformation, legend, and myth to reveal Flora MacDonald in full. Fraser presents a fascinating picture of this headstrong and irrepressible woman. As Samuel Johnson declared upon visiting her in Scotland, her name was “a name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honor.”
The Old Faith in a New Nation: American Protestants and the Christian Past, by Paul J. Gutacker (Oxford University Press, February 2023)
Conventional wisdom holds that tradition and history meant little to nineteenth-century American Protestants, who relied on common sense and "the Bible alone." The Old Faith in a New Nation challenges this portrayal by recovering evangelical engagement with the Christian past. Even when they appeared to be most scornful toward tradition, most optimistic and forward-looking, and most confident in their grasp of the Bible, evangelicals found themselves returning, time and again, to Christian history. They studied religious historiography, reinterpreted the history of the church, and argued over its implications for the present. Between the Revolution and the Civil War, American Protestants were deeply interested in the meaning of the Christian past.
Paul J. Gutacker draws from hundreds of print sources-sermons, books, speeches, legal arguments, political petitions, and more-to show how ordinary educated Americans remembered and used Christian history. While claiming to rely on the Bible alone, antebellum Protestants frequently turned to the Christian past on questions of import: how should the government relate to religion? Could Catholic immigrants become true Americans? What opportunities and rights should be available to women? To African Americans? Protestants across denominations answered these questions not only with the Bible but also with history. By recovering the ways in which American evangelicals remembered and used Christian history, The Old Faith in a New Nation shows how religious memory shaped the nation and interrogates the meaning of "biblicism."
Good and Mad: Mainline Protestant Churchwomen, 1920-1980, by Margaret Bendroth (Oxford University Press, December 2022)
Providing a new, women-centered view of mainline Protestantism in the 20th century, Good and Mad explores the paradoxes and conflicting loyalties of liberal Protestant churchwomen who campaigned for human rights and global peace, worked for interracial cooperation, and opened the path to women's ordination, all while working within the confines of the church that denied them equality. Challenging the idea that change is only ever made by the loud, historian Margaret Bendroth interweaves vignettes of individual women who knew both the value of compromise and the cost of anger within a larger narrative that highlights the debts second-wave feminism owes to their efforts, even though these women would never have called themselves feminists.
This lively historical account explains not just how feminism finally took root in American mainline churches, but why the change was so long in coming. Through its complex examination of the intersections of faith, gender, and anger at injustice, Good and Mad will be invaluable to anyone interested in the history of gender and religion in America.
Christian Parenting: Wisdom and Perspectives from American History, by David P. Setran (Eerdmans, June 2022)
Today’s parenting guidance can sometimes feel timeless and inviolable—especially when it comes to the spiritual formation of children in Christian households. But even in the recent past, parenting philosophies have differed widely among Christians in ways that reflect the contexts from which they emerged.
In Christian Parenting, David Setran catalogs the varying ways American Protestants envisioned the task of childrearing in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Comparing two main historical time periods—the colonial era and the Victorian era—Setran uncovers common threads, opposing viewpoints, and the cultural and religious influences behind the dominant parenting “postures” of each era. The implications of his findings matter for today’s big questions about parenting:
- Should children be viewed as basically good, in need of protection from corruption, or as fundamentally sinful, in need of moral correction?
- How should parents address misbehavior?
- Should a parent’s primary role be that of teacher, disciplinarian, or nurturer?
- What importance should be attributed to devotions and prayer, church involvement, Sabbath-keeping, home decorating, and fun family activities?
- What consideration should be given to gender? Should boys and girls be raised differently? Do mothers and fathers have essentially different responsibilities?
Before the Religious Right: Liberal Protestants, Human Rights, and the Polarization of the United States, by Gene Zubovich (University of Pennsylvania Press, March 2022)
When we think about religion and politics in the United States today, we think of conservative evangelicals. But for much of the twentieth century it was liberal Protestants who most profoundly shaped American politics. Leaders of this religious community wielded their influence to fight for social justice by lobbying for the New Deal, marching against segregation, and protesting the Vietnam War. In Before the Religious Right, Gene Zubovich shows that the important role of liberal Protestants in the battles over poverty, segregation, and U.S. foreign relations must be understood in a global context. Inspired by new transnational networks, ideas, and organizations, American liberal Protestants became some of the most important backers of the United Nations and early promoters of human rights. But they also saw local events from this global vantage point, concluding that a peaceful and just world order must begin at home. In the same way that the rise of the New Right cannot be understood apart from the mobilization of evangelicals, Zubovich shows that the rise of American liberalism in the twentieth century cannot be understood without a historical account of the global political mobilization of liberal Protestants.
A Religious History of the American GI in World War II, by G. Kurt Piehler (University of Nebraska Press, December 2021)
A Religious History of the American GI in World War II breaks new ground by recounting the armed forces’ unprecedented efforts to meet the spiritual needs of the fifteen million men and women who served in World War II. For President Franklin D. Roosevelt and many GIs, religion remained a core American value that fortified their resolve in the fight against Axis tyranny. While combatants turned to fellow comrades for support, even more were sustained by prayer. GIs flocked to services, and when they mourned comrades lost in battle, chaplains offered solace and underscored the righteousness of their cause. This study is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the social history of the American GI during World War II.
Drawing on an extensive range of letters, diaries, oral histories, and memoirs, G. Kurt Piehler challenges the conventional wisdom that portrays the American GI as a nonideological warrior. American GIs echoed the views of FDR, who saw a Nazi victory as a threat to religious freedom and recognized the antisemitic character of the regime. Official policies promoted a civil religion that stressed equality between Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism. Many chaplains embraced this tri-faith vision and strived to meet the spiritual needs of all servicepeople regardless of their own denomination. While examples of bigotry, sectarianism, and intolerance remained, the armed forces fostered the free exercise of religion that promoted a respect for the plurality of American religious life among GIs.
American-Iranian Dialogues: From Constitution to White Revolution, c. 1890s-1960s, edited by Matthew K. Shannon (Bloomsbury Academic, November 2021)
Bringing together historians of US foreign relations and scholars of Iranian studies, American-Iranian Dialogues examines the cultural connections between Americans and Iranians from the constitutional period of the 1890s through to the start of the White Revolution in the 1960s.
Taking an innovative cultural approach, chapters are centred around major themes in American-Iranian encounters and cultural exchange throughout this period, including stories of origin, cultural representations, nationalism and discourses on development. Expert contributors draw together different strands of US-Iranian relations to discuss a range of path-breaking topics such as the history of education, heritage exchange, oil development and the often-overlooked interactions between American and Iranian non-state actors.
Through exploring the understudied cultural dimensions of US-Iranian relations, this book will be essential reading for students and scholars interested in American history, international history, Iranian studies and Middle Eastern studies.
Journey to Indo-América: APRA and the Transnational Politics of Exile, Persecution, and Solidarity, 1918–1945, by Geneviève Dorais (Cambridge University Press, August 2021)
The American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) was a Peruvian political party that played an important role in the development of the Latin American left during the first half of the 1900s. In Journey to Indo-América, Geneviève Dorais examines how and why the anti-imperialist project of APRA took root outside of Peru as well as how APRA's struggle for political survival in Peru shaped its transnational consciousness. Dorais convincingly argues that APRA's history can only be understood properly within this transnational framework, and through the collective efforts of transnational organization rather than through an exclusive emphasis on political figures like APRA leader, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre. Tracing circuits of exile and solidarity through Latin America, the United States, and Europe, Dorais seeks to deepen our appreciation of APRA's ideological production through an exploration of the political context in which its project of hemispheric unity emerged.
Providence and the Invention of American History, by Sarah Koenig (Yale University Press, June 2021)
In 1847, Protestant missionary Marcus Whitman was killed after a disastrous eleven-year effort to evangelize the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. By 1897, Whitman was a national hero, celebrated in textbooks, monuments, and historical scholarship as the “Savior of Oregon.” But his fame was based on a tall tale—one that was about to be exposed.
In Providence and the Invention of American History, Sarah Koenig traces the rise and fall of Protestant missionary Marcus Whitman’s legend, revealing two patterns in the development of American history. On the one hand is providential history, marked by the conviction that God is an active agent in human history and that historical work can reveal patterns of divine will. On the other hand is objective history, which arose from the efforts of Catholics and other racial and religious outsiders to resist providentialists’ pejorative descriptions of non‑Protestants and nonwhites. Koenig examines how these competing visions continue to shape understandings of the American past and the nature of historical truth.
Open Hearts, Closed Doors: Immigration Reform and the Waning of Mainline Protestantism, by Nicholas T. Pruitt (NYU Press, June 2021)
Open Hearts, Closed Doors uncovers the largely overlooked role that liberal Protestants played in fostering cultural diversity in America and pushing for new immigration laws during the forty years following the passage of the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924. These efforts resulted in the complete reshaping of the US cultural and religious landscape.
During this period, mainline Protestants contributed to the national debate over immigration policy and joined the charge for immigration reform, advocating for a more diverse pool of newcomers. They were successful in their efforts, and in 1965 the quota system based on race and national origin was abolished. But their activism had unintended consequences, because the liberal immigration policies they supported helped to end over three centuries of white Protestant dominance in American society.
Yet, Pruitt argues, in losing their cultural supremacy, mainline Protestants were able to reassess their mission. They rolled back more strident forms of xenophobia, substantively altering the face of mainline Protestantism and laying foundations for their responses to today’s immigration debates. More than just a historical portrait, this volume is a timely reminder of the power of religious influence in political matters.
The Americans of Urumia: Iran’s First Americans and their Mission to the Assyrian Christians, by Hooman Estelami (Bahar Books, May 2021)
Beginning in the 1830s, a small group of Americans began to settle in remote regions of northwestern Iran. Generation after generation of these Americans grew up in the Urumia region, formed their families, labored, and died there. Their work resulted in the establishment of Iran's first medical college, a massive school system, and evangelical services for Persia's Assyrian Christian population. They had deep humanitarian ambitions that impacted Iran for eight decades and formed the earliest connections between Americans and Iranians. Their work came to an abrupt and violent end due to the First World War, and history has since forgotten them. Using missionary memoirs and writings, archival records, and vintage photographs, The Americans of Urumia profiles America's initial connections to Iran and profiles four influential Americans who served in the Urumia region between 1835 and 1918.
A Higher Mission: The Careers of Alonzo and Althea Brown Edmiston in Central Africa, by Kimberly D. Hill (University Press of Kentucky, August 2020)
In this vital transnational study, Kimberly D. Hill critically analyzes the colonial history of central Africa through the perspective of two African American missionaries: Alonzo Edmiston and Althea Brown Edmiston. The pair met and fell in love while working as a part of the American Presbyterian Congo Mission―an operation which aimed to support the people of the Congo Free State suffering forced labor and brutal abuses under Belgian colonial governance. They discovered a unique kinship amid the country's growing human rights movement and used their familiarity with industrial education, popularized by Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, as a way to promote Christianity and offer valuable services to local people.
From 1902 through 1941, the Edmistons designed their mission projects to promote community building, to value local resources, and to incorporate the perspectives of the African participants. They focused on childcare, teaching, translation, construction, and farming―ministries that required constant communication with their Kuba neighbors. Hill concludes with an analysis of how the Edmistons' pedagogy influenced government-sponsored industrial schools in the Belgian Congo through the 1950s.
A Higher Mission illuminates not only the work of African American missionaries―who are often overlooked and under-studied―but also the transnational implications of black education in the South. Significantly, Hill also addresses the role of black foreign missionaries in the early civil rights movement, an argument that suggests an underexamined connection between earlier nineteenth-century Pan-Africanisms and activism in the interwar era.
Watch Dr. Hill discuss her book on PHS Live.
See Dr. Hill and Edmiston family members talk about visiting the PHS archives.
Sarah and Her Sisters: American Missionary Pioneers in Arab Female Education, 1834-1937, by Rev. Robert D. Stoddard, Jr. (Hachette-Antoine, June 2020)
When newly married Sarah Smith arrived in Beirut in 1834, she was appalled by the ignorance and ill treatment of Arab women and girls. Well educated for her times, she was not content just to keep house for her missionary husband. Rather, having taught Mohegan Indians in Connecticut, she, in her two remaining years, opened a small school for girls that began the transformation of education for Arab females.
Sarah’s pioneering venture inspired a series of Protestant “sisters,” married and single, to follow in her wake as missionary teachers. Leaving loved ones and the comforts of home behind, they crossed two perilous seas, learned Arabic, and against great odds continued her work in elementary and then secondary and higher education. Sarah’s posthumous memoir was widely read. But the stories of her “sisters” were little known—until now. In Sarah and Her Sisters, these stories are linked in an extraordinary chain of educational achievements despite religious strife, civil war, epidemics, famine, isolation and finally a world war, pandemic and global depression. Regrettably, many “sisters,” like Sarah, paid the ultimate price and were buried abroad.
As long as any girls anywhere are denied an education, these stories can inspire teachers of girls and advocates for female education worldwide to persevere. And hopefully coeds at Lebanese American University will be inspired and motivated to excel knowing that their university goes back to Mrs. Smith’s Beirut Female School and that they are the direct beneficiaries of Sarah and her sisters.
Read Robert Stoddard's post Sarah Smith and Her Missionary Sisters: Forgotten Advocates for Arab Females on the PHS blog.
Please contact us to let us know about forthcoming publications. We will update the list periodically but will always aim for about a dozen books published within the last five years.