Dec 08 2022


5:30 pm - 7:00 pm


Department of History

Department of History


Hayley Keon
Department of History, HKU

8 Dec 2022 (Thurs) 5:30 p.m.
Run Run Shaw Tower 7/F 7.58

What can childhood memories teach us about the American Empire? What opportunities and challenges do they present to historians hoping to examine the twentieth century United States through a global lens? My paper seeks to answer these questions via an interrogation of three memoirs written by the sons and daughters of American missionaries. Born to US Protestants serving in China between 1892 and 1913, John Espey, Janet Fitch, and Pearl Buck spent their youth in a mission field that lay beyond the formal bounds of any American colony. And yet, when they reflected upon their childhoods in life-writing, they invoked a series of tropes that researchers have since identified as generic conventions of colonial childhood autobiography. By examining their accounts of growing up on mission compounds, I strive to demonstrate that Espey, Fitch, and Buck portrayed their childhoods in ways that cohere with what the literary scholar Astrid Rasch describes as ‘postcolonial nostalgia.’ In the process, I argue that their memoirs offer valuable insights into the nature of the American Empire as its citizens imagined it in the twentieth century: namely, a broad and heterogenous dominion, the edges of which rarely aligned with the borders that officials drew onto maps.


Hayley Keon is a final year PhD candidate in history at the University of Hong Kong and a recipient of the Hong Kong Research Council’s PhD Fellowship. Her thesis examines the experiences of American missionary youth in treaty port China during the early years of the twentieth century


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