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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.

A Religious History of the American GI in World War II, by G. Kurt Piehler (University of Nebraska Press, December 2021)

Cover image for A Religious History of the American GIA 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)

Cover image for American-Iranian DialoguesBringing 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)

Cover image for Journey to Indo-AmericaThe 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)

Cover image for Providence and the Invention of American HistoryIn 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)

Cover image for Open Hearts, Closed DoorsOpen 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)

Cover image for Americans in UrumiaBeginning 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.


Saving the Overlooked Continent: American Protestant Missions in Western Europe, 1940–1975, by Hans Krabbendam (Leuven University Press, December 2020)

Among a wide spectrum of American Protestants, the horrors of World War II triggered grave concern for Europe's religious future. They promptly mobilized resources to revive Europe's Christian foundation. Saving the Overlooked Continent reconstructs this surprising redirection of Western missions. For the first time, Europe became the recipient of America's missionary enterprise.
The American missionary impulse matched the military, economic, and political programs of the US, all of which positioned the United States to become Europe's dominant partner and point of cultural reference. One result was the importation of the internal conflicts that vexed American Protestants theological―tensions between modernists and traditionalists, and organizational competition between established churches and independent parachurch associations. Europe was offered a new slate of options that sparked civic and ecclesiastical responses.

But behind these contending religious networks lay a considerable overlap of goals and means based on a shared missionary trajectory. By the mid-1960s, most Protestant American agencies admitted that the expectation of a religious revival had been too optimistic despite their initiatives having led to an integration of Europe in the global evangelical network. The agencies reconsidered their assumptions and redefined their strategies. The initial opposition between inclusive and exclusive approaches abated, and the path opened to a sustained cooperation among once-fierce opponents.


The Contextualized Psalms (Punjabi Zabur): A Precious Heritage of the Global Punjabi Christian Community, by Yousaf Sadiq (Wipf & Stock, November 2020)

The metrical translation of the Psalms into the Punjabi language, set to indigenous music in the late nineteenth century in India, plays a vital role in the personal and communal worship of the global Punjabi Christian community. The Contextualized Psalms is a pioneer work that comprehensively encompasses the cultural, socio-historical, missional, and sociolinguistic aspects of the Punjabi Psalter. It investigates the unique and fascinating story of the contextualizing of Psalms in an exclusive South Asian Punjabi context and engages in an in-depth study on the life and work of Rev. Dr. Imam-ud-Din Shahbaz. This work determines to bring a deeper appreciation for the Punjabi Psalter by encouraging the Punjabi Christians to not only pass the Psalms on to the next generations but also to grow in loving and valuing their mother-tongue, the Punjabi language. The thrust of this book is to esteem the shared heritage of the global Punjabi Christian community--the Psalms in Punjabi, commonly known as the Punjabi Zabur.

Read the author's article, "A Precious Gift: The Punjabi Psalms and the Legacy of Imam-ud-Din Shahbaz" in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.


Saving the Nation: Chinese Protestant Elites and the Quest to Build a New China, 1922-1952, by Thomas H. Reilly (Oxford University Press, September, 2020)

While Protestant Christians made up only a small percentage of China's overall population during the Republican period, they were heavily represented among the urban elite. Protestant influence was exercised through churches, hospitals, and schools, and reached beyond these institutions into organizations such as the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) and YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association). The YMCA's city associations drew their membership from the urban elite and were especially influential within the modern sectors of urban society.

Chinese Protestant leaders adapted the social message and practice of Christianity to the conditions of the republican era. Key to this effort was their belief that Christianity could save China that is, that Christianity could be more than a religion focused on saving individuals, but could also save a people, a society, and a nation. Saving the Nation recounts the history of the Protestant elite beginning with their participation in social reform campaigns in the early twentieth century, continuing through their contribution to the resistance against Japanese imperialism, and ending with Protestant support for a social revolution.

The story Thomas Reilly tells is one about the Chinese Protestant elite and the faith they adopted and adapted, Social Christianity. But it is also a broader story about the Chinese people and their struggle to strengthen and renew their nation to build a New China.


Protestant Missionaries & Humanitarianism in the DRC: The Politics of Aid in Cold War Africa, by Jeremy Rich (James Currey, September 2020)

In the wake of the civil wars in Congo from 1960 to 1973, international and internal struggles for power led to famines, the collapse of public health and a huge population of refugees. Protestant Missionaries & Humanitarianism in the DRC explores the role played by missionaries from the US, Canada and the UK who organized aid, and shows how they had to redefine their roles in independent Africa after the end of colonialism. Partnering US government officials to overcome the humanitarian crisis asthe politics of aid threatened to sink their efforts, Protestant aid programs also worked with US-backed Congolese military efforts to crush leftist rebels and joined with Angolan rebels to help hundreds of thousands of Angolan refugees fleeing Portuguese colonialism. After Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in 1965, they found themselves adjusting with difficulty to the rise of Congolese religious leaders who demanded aid workers and donor agencies accept African control over development projects.

In this examination of the changing history of humanitarianism in Central Africa, the author shows how aid workers, who believed themselves to be politically neutral humanitarians, had to question their privileged role, and negotiate new ways of collaboration. Offering material aid and support, they hoped to heal the wounds of colonial repression and the violence of independence - abandoned hospitals, starving refugees, economic recession - yet also sought to ensure a Christian Congo would emerge allied to Western countries. The author explores the role of Protestant aid workers in the ethnic violence of South Kasai province; shows how Protestant aid became a tool in US-back counterinsurgency campaigns against leftist rebels; examines the interplay of Congolese and Western medicine in the work of Protestant medical volunteers; and discusses conflict in the aims ofthe missionaries and Africans over the control of aid funds and aid initiatives.


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.


Of One Blood All Nations: John Bingham: Ohio Congressman’s Diplomatic Career in Meiji Japan (1873-1885), by Sam Kidder (Piscataqua Press, August 2020)

Of One Blood All Nations chronicles the life of John Bingham starting with his childhood in Ohio through his diplomatic career in Meiji Japan. Called the father of the 14th Amendment, John Bingham was a key political figure in America's Reconstruction era. His twelve years as America's senior diplomat in Japan came at a crucial time in the emerging bilateral relationship.

"Kidder, with first-hand knowledge of both diplomacy and Japan, recalls for us an often forgotten and undervalued diplomat: John Bingham. A relentless researcher active on both sides of the Pacific, Kidder is especially insightful in exploring Bingham’s connections with Ohio politicians and neighbors and Washington colleagues, all vital to his lengthy and productive tenure in Japan."     - Prof. Jack Hammersmith, West Virginia University, author Spoilsmen in a Flowery Fairyland.

"I have been very pleased to see Mr. Kidder’s research on John Bingham whose contribution to Japan and America has been neglected for too long. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the early diplomatic and cultural relationship between our two great Pacific nations."     - Prof. K. Nakajima, PhD, Tohoku University, visiting professor Meiji Gakuin University.

"Using extensive research and drawing on his own personal experience working in and with the US Embassy in Tokyo, Sam Kidder has produced a fast-paced narrative of John Bingham’s years before, during and after his posting in Japan. Whether you are a student or a practitioner in the area of US-Japan relations, you cannot miss this story of the competence, respect and decency that Bingham brought to his engagement with Japan."     - Ambassador Larry Greenwood, Japan Society of Northern California

"John Bingham is widely remembered for his time in Congress, where he helped draft the 14th Amendment and delivered closing arguments during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. As Sam Kidder makes clear in this well researched and richly detailed study, Bingham’s second political act, as lead U.S. diplomat to Japan, is equally worthy of historical reflection as he used his principled political skills to lead the U.S. delegation during the transformational Meiji Period. His work in Japan strengthened a bilateral relationship that only the imperial ambitions of the 20th century would undo."     - Nancy J. Taylor, Executive Director, Presbyterian Historical Society


MOVE: An American Religion, by Richard Kent Evans (Oxford University Press, June 2020)

What is a religion? That is the question that Richard Kent Evans attempts to answer in this book. He does so through the story of MOVE, a little-known group with a fascinating story.

MOVE emerged in Philadelphia in the early 1970s. It was a small, mostly African American group devoted to the teachings of John Africa. In 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department -- working in concert with federal and state law enforcement -- attacked a home that "MOVE people" as they preferred to be known, shared in West Philadelphia. Hundreds of police officers and firefighters laid siege to the building using tear gas, ten thousand rounds of ammunition, and improvised explosives. Most infamously, a police officer riding in a helicopter dropped a bomb containing C-4 explosives, which he had acquired from the FBI, onto the roof of the MOVE house. The bomb started a fire, which officials allowed to spread in hopes of chasing the MOVE people out of the house. Police officers fired upon those who tried to escape the flames. Eleven MOVE people died in the attack, including John Africa. Five of those who died were children.

In MOVE: An American Religion, Richard Kent Evans tells the story of MOVE -- a story that has been virtually lost outside of Philadelphia. What was MOVE? Many MOVE members thought of themselves as belonging to a religion, and they sought legal recognition. But to others, including other religious groups like the Quakers and, more importantly, the courts, MOVE was anything but a religion. Evans dives deep into how we decide what constitutes a genuine religious tradition, and the enormous consequences of that decision.


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.