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  • Christian Imperialism: Converting the world in the early American republic by Emily Conroy-Krutz
  • Simon Hongzhe Sun
Christian Imperialism: Converting the world in the early American republic. By Emily Conroy-Krutz. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2015 (The United States in the World).

Although the study of "American history in global perspective" or "the US in the world" was initiated mainly by scholars of the twentieth century, historians working on the earlier periods have not lagged behind. In 2006, a "Forum" entitled "Beyond the Atlantic" in the William and Mary Quarterly, attended by Alison Games, Philip J. Stern, Paul W. Mapp, Peter A. Coclanis, and Julie Sievers, launched the collective effort to globalize colonial and Revolutionary America, which was later embodied in such works as David Armitage's The Declaration of Independence: A global history (2007), George Athan Billias's American Constitutionalism Heard Round the World, 1776–1989: A global perspective (2009), Caroline Frank's Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese commodities in early America (2011), and Jonathan Eacott's Selling Empire: India in the making of Britain and America, 1600–1830 (2016).

In 2011, Rosemarie Zagarri published "The Significance of the 'Global Turn' for the Early American Republic" in the Journal of the Early American Republic. Believing that "historians of the early American republic have been less than enthusiastic in engaging with the global turn," Zagarri urged them to challenge American exceptionalism and look beyond the Atlantic. In 2016, nine scholars gathered in an "Interchange" of the Journal of American History entitled "Globalization and Its Limits between the American Revolution and the Civil War," seeking to push the inquiry one step further with new case studies. Conroy-Krutz's Christian Imperialism: Converting the world in the early American republic is one of them, focusing on the first three decades of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM).

Conroy-Krutz articulates that she hopes to challenge the traditional view of the period as continental and republican. That could be the case from Southerners' perspective, the author argues, but Northerners, at least the ABCFM, were global and imperial. Inspired by the Second Great Awakening, the Board was established in 1810 to "civilize" and Christianize the world. Without a formal US overseas empire, however, the Board had to rely on the British Empire and ally itself with the London Missionary Society (reminiscent of James Fichter's 2010 monograph So Great A Proffit: How the East Indies trade transformed Anglo-American capitalism, in which the author looks at the collaboration between American and British merchants in ending the East India Company's monopoly). In India, the EIC was not supportive of American missionaries because of its long tradition against dissenting missionaries. During the War of 1812, the EIC imprisoned American missionaries and sent them away. After the War, it was afraid that it might incur the Brahmins' anger and damage its rule. Because of the EIC, and local people's lack of interest, the American missionaries were not successful in Calcutta and Bombay. Although the British Empire provided a framework for their work, Conroy-Kurtz believes it also undermined their growth.

The Board's work among the Cherokees and in the Sandwich Islands proved more fruitful, but not without problems. In the Sandwich Islands, the missionaries were well received by the local elites and people, many of whom promptly converted and even sent their children to the mission schools among them and in the US. However, the missionaries were afraid that conversion without civilization might not be real. In the 1820s, inspired by the Board's missions (or settler colonies, according to Conroy-Kurtz), the Cherokees adopted a writing system and a written constitution modeled on the US Constitution, indicating their willingness to "civilize." However, although the missionaries succeeded in helping the Cherokees to secure the ownership of their land in Georgia, they were not able to force the US and Georgia governments to respect the Cherokees' rights during Andrew Jackson's removal policy and the Nullification Crisis. After submitting, the missionaries were believed to have betrayed the Cherokees.

In order to compensate for the Atlantic slave trade, the Board decided to spread the gospel in Liberia. At the beginning, its...

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