The Role of the American Board in the World

Bicentennial Reflections on the Organization's Missionary Work, 1810-2010: A new book edited by Clifford Putney and Paul T. Burlin

The Role of the American Board in the World
Bicentennial Reflections on the Organization’s Missionary Work, 1810–2010
EDITED BY CLIFFORD PUTNEY AND PAUL T. BURLIN

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was the country’s first creator of overseas Christian missions. Founded in 1810 and supported by a coalition of Calvinist denominations, the ABCFM established the first American missions in India, China, Africa, Oceania, the Middle East, and many other places. It was America’s largest missionary organization in the nineteenth century, and its influence was immense. Its missionaries established the first Western schools and hospitals in many parts of the world, and they successfully promoted women’s rights and other ideals from the Enlightenment. They also transformed oral languages such as Zulu, Hawaiian, and Cherokee into written form, and they preserved many elements of premodern cultures (albeit not always intentionally).

The contributors to this book provide valuable insights on the work of the ABCFM (which exists today under a different name). Some of the contributors profile the lives of notable ABCFM missionaries, others focus on ideological shifts within the Board, and still others chronicle the Board’s role in historic events, including the Opium Wars, the colonization of Hawai’i, and the Armenian Genocide. From reading this book, people will come to understand why the ABCFM is widely viewed as America’s most historically significant missionary organization.

“Both contributors and publisher are to be thanked for this long-needed contemporary examination of the first foreign mission board founded in the United States. It provides often-neglected depth-of-field perspectives, enabling us to understand and appreciate a Western missionary movement that has been, for better or for worse, dominated by the United States for the last century. I heartily recommend this book.”   JONATHAN J. BONK, Author of Missions and Money: Affluence as a Missionary Problem—Revisited

“This lively collection offers numerous models for reinterpreting Christian missions in the history of the United States and many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern societies. The chapters depict colorful and often combative American missionaries, not only as evangelists and educators, but also as publicists of atrocities, reformers, lawgivers, traders, cultural observers, and advocates of destabilizing marital and gender norms. Nuanced and richly contextualized, they exemplify the best in the new historiography of missions.”  RICHARD ELPHICK, Author of The Equality of Believers: Protestant Missionaries and the Racial Politics of South Africa

CLIFFORD PUTNEY is Assistant Professor of History at Bentley University. His publications include Muscular Christianity (2001) and Missionaries in Hawai’i (2010).

PAUL T. BURLIN is Professor of History at the University of New England. His publications include Imperial Maine and Hawai’i (2008).

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