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Call for Papers

     We are an international group of historians of the United States who are organizing a three-day conference-workshop entitled "Competing Kingdoms: Women, Mission, Nation, and American Empire, 1812-1938." The conference will take place at the University of Oxford, England from April 27 to 29, 2006 and will be organized through the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, the Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and Tokyo Woman's Christian University. We expect funding to be in place to cover expenses for participants while at Oxford. We hope that participants will be able to secure funding for travel from their home institutions.

     We plan to publish an edited volume of the papers from the conference that will emphasize change over time. To that end, we currently envisage that the conference-workshop will be organized around the four themes of women, mission, nation, and empire. Contributions should focus on one of those themes while incorporating the remaining three. There will be no simultaneous sessions. The workshop atmosphere will facilitate discussion, critique, and revision of each contribution. Participants will be expected to attend all sessions and contribute to shaping the volume.

     With the idea of "competing kingdoms" we offer a framework for exploring the ways in which women's different allegiances and identities-temporal and spiritual-shaped and were shaped by imperial missionary projects grounded in American values and influenced by other national entities. Our purpose is to go beyond an examination of women's experiences to contextualize and historicize their interactions across cultural and political systems. Building on the work of scholars of European empires our objective is to bring the concepts of metropole and periphery into one analytical frame. The conference will explore the ways in which women's encounters reverberated across imperial, colonial, and national projects to highlight the activities of women missionaries within the emergence of an "American Empire." As American missionaries outside the United States operated for the most part without the support of an official colonial apparatus, our conference will contribute to current scholarship that aims to define the contours of the American Empire.

     American women in foreign locations have provided the focus for much of the past scholarship on women and mission; yet missionary women abroad represented only the tip of an iceberg that extended deep into American society. Across the United States, millions of women joined local societies to raise money for and promote the efforts of American women and foreign converts. Popular grassroots home support for missions provided an opportunity for American women to work as volunteers on behalf of missions and as paid employees of mission boards. Missionary work expanded at a time when Americans were shaping their own national identity in response to increasing immigration and diversity in American society. What contributions did women in mission make to the construction of an American identity? Were they successful in forming transnational religious communities of women? We will interrogate multivocal perspectives to articulate the ways in which women's interactions with their host environments promoted, adapted, resisted, subverted, and reconfigured American ideals and institutions across the United States and around the world.

     The chief objective of mission was conversion; yet foreign missionaries, like urban reformers at home, were inevitably purveyors and shapers of American culture. Moreover, missionaries, like reformers, were the chief interpreters of foreign cultures. They helped shape American attitudes to foreign peoples abroad and the immigrants in their midst. We wish to explore mission stations abroad and mission settlements within the United States as sites of exchange, "contact zones," and "middle ground" where different cultures met and engaged. Because women were prevented from formal preaching, their work inevitably engaged them in cultural work. Communities of and interactions with Protestant women were prominent in complex colonial encounters in which nationalisms around the globe were forged and contested. How did American women and women of other cultures make sense of these encounters? What institutional structures emerged from them? We will illuminate the mission site as a focal point for change where women actively made connections and brought people together to transform the local landscape.

     As denominational consciousness and regional sectarianism increased in the United States, American missionary women abroad assumed a national identity, subsuming their denominational affiliations and regional identities under the label of American Protestantism. Whether New Englanders, Southerners, or Midwesterners; whether Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, or Baptists, missionary women perceived themselves to be Americans who were carrying American values, the Gospel of Christ, and the offer of freedom from the bonds of "heathen" religions and cultures. If American national identity was constructed in part by the missionary impulse that sent "Americans" out into the world, it was also forged through the white American Protestant encounter with peoples of other cultures. How did the relationships between the metropole and the periphery contribute to shaping American nationalism and nationalisms around the world? To what extent was the United States, frequently cited as the prime example of civic nationalism, affected by notions of cultural nationalism? How did women contribute across national borders to national, transnational, and imperial identities? How did they negotiate shifting allegiances? How did they connect their personal identities to state formation? We will explore the ways in which national identities were reconfigured through colonial encounters in the United States and around the world.

     One of the goals of this conference is to illuminate the tensions between American empire and the Christian empire envisioned by women missionaries. Many of the values that have been central to the idea of American nationalism became vehicles for international programs of reform. In discourses that continue to reverberate powerfully, the perceived need to free women of other cultures from various forms of oppression provided an important justification for the spread of American power across the globe. Historians have shown that women missionaries sanctified imperialism, particularly informal imperialism, in the minds of much of the American public. Yet at the same time, many women missionaries saw themselves as involved in the construction of an international sisterhood of Christian women, albeit one led and controlled by Anglo-Saxon women. How did American women contribute to the evolution of empire? We will examine their discourses and institutions to illuminate the projection of American Protestant power abroad. We hope to explore the imperial encounters of American women in all geographic areas.

     While the study of American women in mission has to date emphasized Protestantism, we welcome contributions that include other missionary religions. The "American Empire" is increasingly being interpreted as an Anglo-American Protestant empire. How do other American missionary faiths fit into this conceptual framework?

     We welcome initial enquiries. Please contact us and send us your name, institution, contact information, and research topic.

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Distinguished Professor of History and Co-Director, Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender, State University of New York at Binghamton; Harmsworth Professor of American History, University of Oxford, 2005-2006.

Rui Kohiyama, Professor of Area Studies at Tokyo Woman's Christian University; Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Fellow, Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender, 2003-2004.

Connie Shemo, Lecturer, Princeton University.

Barbara Reeves-Ellington, Assistant Professor, Siena College.


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