With young activists like Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, and Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez coming to the fore of headlines and social movements, the present has proven itself to be an opportune moment to reassess the role of youths in historical change. In this vein, Dr. Joy Schulz’s book Hawaiian By Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific (2017) stands out as crucial reading. Emphasizing the centrality of American missionary children in the domination of the Hawaiian Islands during the second half of nineteenth century, Schulz’s analysis exposes the potency of youth power through a series of chapters that trace the development of these young evangelists into colonizers and revolutionaries. In the process, she draws attention to the complexities born at the intersections of childhood and empire and underscores the capacity of children to record their own histories in ways that may complement or complicate adult ambitions.
Dr. Schulz and I discuss these themes, and the challenges and opportunities that children present as the subjects of transnational histories.
– Hayley Keon
KEON: Can you tell me a little bit about your path to becoming a historian?
SCHULZ: I came to history as a last-ditch effort to declare a major. I had no idea what I wanted to study, and even towards the end of my junior year, I remained indecisive. One day, one of my history professors just extemporaneously started talking about the personality of a good historian, and I thought: “This is me!”—somebody who likes to work independently, can manage their time well, enjoys people, loves to read and write, and can speak in public. Some of these basic skills can be applied to anything, but I was really drawn to independent work, planning your own schedule, and reading and writing. So, I majored in history and got a master’s degree in International Relations, not knowing what I was going to do. After that, I started teaching at a community college, and that is when I really knew that I loved teaching history. So, I sort of went about this backwards, because by the time I started my PhD, I was working, married, and we were expecting our first child, which really did influence some of the themes that I started thinking about in relation to parenthood and childhood.
KEON: Your book Hawaiian By Birth takes a unique approach to the pre-history of the United States’s colonisation of Hawaiʻi by focusing on the children of American missionaries born on the islands in the second half of the nineteenth century. What first inspired you to place children at the center of this story?
SCHULZ: While teaching a survey course on US history, I happened to come across a documentary on Queen Liliʻuokalani. Everyone in this documentary was referring to the “missionary sons” who overthrew the monarchy. In my naiveté, I asked, “how could a missionary do that?” That really started the research question. Then I began to wonder how these missionary children were different from their parents and also different from the culture in which they lived.
I think one other event that helped me to formulate some of these questions was after 9/11 when dear friends of ours decided to teach at an international school in Kabul and they took their four children with them. They were there for seven years. Eventually the school shut down due to violence, but when they were first leaving for Afghanistan, everyone was shocked that they were going, and the biggest complaint that people had was: “how could you take your children out of our amazing American culture?” It almost had nothing to do with safety, although that was also an issue, but people really felt that raising children outside of the United States was going to somehow damage the children. That was influential in my thinking in terms of: how are my friends’ children going to be different from mine? And, what are the benefits of their being able to experience their formative years in a different culture?
I began reading about ‘third culture children’ and put it together with my interest in the Hawaiian monarchy and Hawaiian history. Then I found out there were these amazing archives in Honolulu, and I thought, “this is it!” because finding sources written by children can be extremely difficult.
KEON: You mentioned the American missionary sons who overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. For those who have yet to read the book, what role do you think they played in that process?
SCHULZ: I think when you look at the leaders of the revolution, they were missionary sons. Almost half of the Committee of Public Safety, which was a smaller group within a larger group of white revolutionaries, were missionary sons. Sanford Ballard Dole, who led the revolution and became the first president of the Republic, was a missionary son. In the book I talk a little bit about his parents, especially his father Daniel Dole, who was a teacher and principal of the Punahou School, which many of the missionary children attended. By extension, Daniel Dole had a large influence upon many of the missionary sons and daughters, who, like Sanford, would be influenced towards revolution. And that started occurring, that influence, very much in childhood and at Punahou.
KEON: My thesis focuses in part on the Shanghai American School, which was also founded by Protestant missionaries, and one of the main subjects in my thesis is the son of the first principal of that school. Though the children who studied there weren’t necessarily bred for revolution, there was also this sense that the school invigorated something of a united identity.
SCHULZ: Yes. So, was this school a boarding school also?
KEON: Yes, it had boarders and a day school.
SCHULZ: I think that’s the other critical piece. Boarding schools are not as popular in the United States as they are in the UK, and there wasn’t as much written about the boarding school experience as I was hoping there would be. So, I was also aware that I needed to try to piece together a little bit about what boarding schools might offer a child in their formative years.
KEON: From the chapter in your book on the Punahou School, it seems that the missionaries had very specific ideas of what they wanted their children to learn and what they didn’t want them to learn.
SCHULZ: I think you have to pick apart what is the school’s role, the parents’ role (that may or may not be accomplished by the school to parental satisfaction), and the child’s view of the school. Then there are the peers of that child: what are their views of the school? On top of that in Hawaiʻi, of course, what is the indigenous view of the school and what is the government’s view of the school? And you put it all together and it becomes somewhat of a mess. In that context, it’s no surprise that missionary children were ultimately bonded together as peers rather than as Hawaiians or as missionary families.
KEON: Another thing that comes up in your book that surprised me, because it isn’t the same in the case of missionary youths in early twentieth century China, is that missionary parents were trying to limit their children’s exposure to the Hawaiian language. In China during the period I study, parents were very keen for their children to learn Chinese, though the children themselves had varying degrees of success.
SCHULZ: That is huge, and I do think that’s the Progressive-era switch in evangelical Christianity in terms of the purpose of missions. I think many of the missionaries in early twentieth century China had a broader view of what their role should be in the country, as opposed to the missionaries in 1820 who first landed in Hawaiʻi. For them, it was evangelism and preaching the gospel, and very little else. Consequently, they wanted their children to be introduced to the gospel and surrounded by biblical teaching exclusively. At least in the early years.
KEON: I was really impressed by the richness and the quantity of sources written by children themselves that come into your book. How did you go about collecting this material, and what challenges did you face when trying to integrate children as historical subjects, given the difficulty of finding their voices within traditional source material?
SCHULZ: As many historians say, the archivist is one of your best friends, and she was able to introduce me to some of the things in the collection that I didn’t know existed. But, I started with biographies that were very hagiographic: descendants of missionaries writing about their families, or about the schools where they had taught or which they had funded. I knew from reading those that there were sources. They were quoting from student newspapers and school reports, so it was clear that they had maintained their archive well. When I left Honolulu, I think I had close to 2,000 digital documents. I believe that they are trying to digitize everything now, so that’s only going to aid researchers.
It took me about a year just to go through all of the pictures I had taken and try to read the spider-like, scribbly nineteenth-century cursive. And, I’m not done. I could probably write several volumes, but I received some great advice from my advisor, who said, “you have enough. Every source you’re reading is saying the same thing.” Yet, I couldn’t quite make myself believe I had done enough work.
KEON: So, why do you think that, particularly in the Hawaiian context, the writings of missionary children were so fervently archived? Do you think this has to do with the structure of missions in Hawaiʻi or do you think that there is something else at work here?
SCHULZ: I think there are a couple of things at play. One is that the Congregationalist and Presbyterian missionaries were extremely well educated. The men had to have formal seminary degrees to be allowed to go on to the mission field. They knew Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and they quickly learned Hawaiian and translated it into a written language. So, there was a high level of academic ability amongst the first missionaries, and their children’s education was extremely important to them as well. That led to so many of the issues I write about—this fear that their children would not be as well-educated and then not have as many opportunities as they had. So, intellectual ability and theological education were very much passed down values. Also, I think the missionary enterprise in Hawaiʻi was considered the most successful mission amongst American missionaries, and people at the time were recognizing it as such and calling it a “finished mission field” by the Civil War. So, the children, who were becoming adults at this moment, really felt that they had to record all of this for history, to record the role that their families played and that their parents, particularly, had played. As they grew older, and they began to see that maybe the government would not want to continue in the path their parents had set, they then began to utilize their histories to argue for conservative change, which was “let’s keep things the way they are by overthrowing the Hawaiian government.”
KEON: It’s fascinating that they had this nearly historiographical consciousness. It shows that there is something really special, if concerning, about the way that they meticulously recorded their past.
SCHULZ: It is very concerning. They really felt that they were at the forefront of history, which I think on the one hand would be exciting as a child, to realize that you’re caught up in something that hardly anyone in the world at that time had done: travel across the Pacific to an island. But at the same time, it did breed a lot of pride and insularity, which portrayed itself radically by the end of the century.
KEON: Another thing that really stood out to me was that, because you have such vibrant and personal source material, it is in some ways a very intimate history, in which the emotions of these childhoods come to the fore. Did you set out with the intention to produce that kind of story, and what do you think the emotional dimensions of these young lives can tell us about American imperialism more broadly?
SCHULZ: I started out to write the opposite book. I was convinced by my sociological readings that third culture children were going to be amazing, and that they were going to be extremely open-minded, and I found the opposite. This probably wouldn’t have surprised a more seasoned historian, but for me it was very shocking to see racism, colonialism, and cultural superiority so ingrained in the children’s writings from such young ages—which, of course, reminds us that parental influence is tremendously important. With children going to boarding school from the age of five and on upwards, teachers become extremely important as well. Because I was doing what I didn’t set out to do, I felt better about it. I felt that I had listened to the sources, as opposed to ignoring them to write my own point of view, which, of course, you are never to do as a historian.
In answer to your second question, the emotionality of the children, that was hard. I’ll give you one example. When I was writing the chapter on Sanford Dole, I felt that he demonstrated more cultural sensitivity in his early writings than the other missionary children I studied. But when this project was a dissertation, an individual on my committee felt that I had been too sympathetic. She asked me point blank: “Why are you being so nice to Sanford Dole?” And I thought, “Well, he was a child during the period covered by my dissertation, and I want to explain how a child becomes a revolutionary leader, and I want to do it fairly.” But, then I had to consider whether I was really being fair, and I had to wrestle with some of those questions. What really helped me was reading the Native Hawaiian historians writing on their own cultural history. They helped me to get a little bit more clarity.
Sometimes, we err on the side of writing cultures off as subjects because of beliefs they held at the time, for example, that race was a mitigating factor. That’s what they believed, and of course they were wrong, but I also wanted to treat them as fully human, as well: subject to their own emotions, hopes, dreams, and fears.
I have great sympathy for the missionary children because of the isolation they experienced on the islands and because they were, after all, children in this process. Everyone is responsible for their own actions, but a lot of people contributed to the development of these children. No one is all good or all bad in a historical inquiry. Sometimes, we err on the side of writing cultures off as subjects because of beliefs they held at the time, for example, that race was a mitigating factor. That’s what they believed, and of course they were wrong, but I also wanted to treat them as fully human, as well: subject to their own emotions, hopes, dreams, and fears.
KEON: In your introduction you note that the children of American missionaries in Hawaiʻi “loved their birthplace but explored the world as if its entitled citizens.” Where did these children end up going, and do you think looking at these endemic citizens of the American Empire might be a way to further integrate US history into global history?
SCHULZ: Not many became missionaries per se, but there were many who did become teachers in missionary-funded schools. John Gulick was probably the one who travelled most extensively, and he spent long periods of time in both Japan and China. In reading through the alumni letters, in which they kept track of their Punahou School alumni ‘cousins,’ as they called each other, it was clear that they had wanderlust and travelled all over. However, few stayed in difficult fields. A lot of them returned to Hawaiʻi or remained in the US after their post-secondary education.
But what I also think was occurring was that they felt they didn’t have a place; they didn’t have their own homeland. They could discuss Hawaiʻi as if it was their own, which they did believe, but I think they also knew it was a forced argument. And I think that’s why it ultimately took real force to lay their claim on it. But I also think that their travels are indicative of looking for a culture that feels like home. I don’t know that many of them found that. Hawaiʻi had been their haven of refuge, but as the century went on and things began to change, it became very disconcerting for them, as well.
KEON: Turning now to focus on Hawaiʻi, how has working with Hawaiʻi as the setting of your research changed your understanding of US history?
SCHULZ: I think it’s influenced me the most in my studies of Native American history. It is not surprising that Native Hawaiians are very active in indigenous peoples’ movements, which also include Native Americans and First Nations peoples. The sense of loss that the Native Hawaiians experienced, the devastation of death, disease—all of it remains very potent. Then there is the fact that a lot of this history was purposefully wiped out after the revolution, as curriculums in schools changed, putting Hawaiians into a manual and industrial education box. In this context, it would be really hard for a nation to heal. I think that’s why most of the literature coming out of Hawaiʻi references a desire for independence and to have the sole responsibility for speaking about Hawaiian history and culture. That also makes it difficult for me to participate in the discussion. I don’t pretend to speak for the indigenous Hawaiians and I really try to stick to questions that affect Americans and US foreign policy without ignoring the impact on Native Hawaiians.
KEON: Where do you see your research going from here?
SCHULZ: I’m really excited about my next project. It took me a while to wrap my head around something new that excites me. I am now researching female Polynesian chiefs who had the principal power roles in places like Tahiti and Hawaiʻi when Europeans and Americans first encountered them. I think it’s interesting that females had power when the British first arrived in Tahiti and the American missionaries first arrived in Hawaiʻi and also when those independent kingdoms were overthrown. I want to bring the story of these amazing women to the public. We have Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II as examples in European history, but with everything Europeans and Americans put on indigenous peoples in terms of their supposed “backwardness,” I think it’s incredible that the rulers in these places were strong women. I want to write about them.