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v2.1 Reference

Domestic Frontiers

Gender, Reform, and American Interventions in the Ottoman Balkans and the Near East

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American Protestant missionaries attempted to export their religious beliefs and cultural ideals to the Ottoman Empire. Seeking to attract Orthodox Christians and even Muslims to their faith, they promoted the paradigm of the "Christian home" as the foundation of national progress. Yet the missionaries' efforts not only failed to win many converts but also produced some unexpected results.

Drawing on a broad range of sources—Ottoman, Bulgarian, Russian, French, and English—Barbara Reeves-Ellington tracks the transnational history of this little-known episode of American cultural expansion. She shows how issues of gender and race influenced the missionaries' efforts as well as the complex responses of Ottoman subjects to American intrusions into their everyday lives. Women missionaries—married and single—employed the language of Christian domesticity and female moral authority to challenge the male-dominated hierarchy of missionary society and to forge bonds of feminist internationalism. At the same time, Orthodox Christians adapted the missionaries' ideology to their own purposes in developing a new strain of nationalism that undermined Ottoman efforts to stem growing sectarianism within their empire. By the beginning of the twentieth century, as some missionaries began to promote international understanding rather than Protestantism, they also paved the way for future expansion of American political and commercial interests.

About the Author

Barbara Reeves-Ellington is associate professor of history at Siena College.


"A fine-grained analysis of efforts to spread American culture and religion to a region that has been neglected in studies of U.S. empire and of the crucial and far-reaching implications of those efforts in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. . . . I believe this will be an important book."—Mary A. Renda, author of Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915–1940

"A sophisticated and engaging study of American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire. . . . In crystal-clear and vivid prose, Barbara Reeves-Ellington shows how both American and Bulgarian women drew from and contributed to the opportunities that the American mission to the region provided, while challenging expectations about gender relations and women's behavior."—Heather J. Sharkey, author of American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire

"Several of the female missionaries [Reeves-Ellington] described appeared as fascinating figures in their own right, women of education and reform and unusual social freedom. They were champions of education in the Ottoman Empire, creating schools for female students in a region with historically low literacy. In books and articles they argued that it is because women were respected and educated in nations such as Great Britain and the United States that the countries prospered, and they encouraged the Bulgarians to follow their example."—Rothermere American Institute

"This study is a fine contribution to a growing historical, not missiological, literature on the missionary enterprise in the late Ottoman Empire. Its focus on domesticity offers crucial insights into what we may call the heart of the Protestant missionary fabric."—American Historical Review

"Barbara Reeves-Ellington does full justice to the complexities of women's involvement in missions, while also highlighting positive contributions. . . . The connections she demonstrates between Nationalist movements, missions, and gender offer a very promising avenue for further inquiry."—Journal of American History

"There is much to admire in Domestic Frontiers, not least of which is the succinct elegance of its prose; indeed the volume's slimness (the text runs a mere 173 pages) belies the scope of its reach. . . . This is an important book with broad appeal to scholars and students alike, whose brevity and accessible style make it especially attractive for use in the classroom."—International Journal of Middle East Studies

"Domestic Frontiers is grounded on an impressive mass of documents deriving from missionary archives, consular reports and Bulgarian narrative sources (newspapers, memoirs, and various publications). The book is a valuable contribution to the expanding research on women as social actors in local, national, and transnational frameworks and will be of interest for students and researchers of Balkan, Ottoman, and comparative colonial history."—Balkanistica

"Domestic Frontiers achieves much on the score of providing a richer contextualization and greater self-consciousness about the way that transnational historians narrate 'encounters' between the United States and 'the World.' In the end, however, its greatest (and most riveting) contribution is its portrayal of the way individual American women negotiated gendered opportunities and constraints within the missionary field."—Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

"Domestic Frontiers directs our attention once more to the widely studied issue of marriage of women with the nation and raises the question of how exactly ideas and practices were diffused and championed on a transnational scale."—Journal of Church and State

"This is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to the fields of women's history, missionary history, and the United States abroad. Reeves-Ellington's use of Bulgarian language sources give US readers an insight into undressing of how missions were perceived by local people. The connections that she traces between the United States and Near East illustrate the transnational connections that persisted in missionaries' perceptions and thinking."—H-Net Reviews

"Barbara Reeves-Ellington's study broadens to competently analyze the complex, multiple layers of meaning that link the modern Ottoman Balkans with the Western world. In a relatively short work of 203 pages, the author has produced an elegantly written and carefully researched study that embeds the personal experiences and institutional specifics of one mission within a much broader analysis of the impact of both formal and informal structures and identities within the multiple empires active in what is now Bulgaria and western Anatolia."—Aspasia

"Reeves-Ellington demonstrates emphatically that the work of missions can no longer be understood as a one-way process of cultural transfer and that communications between metropole and periphery can no longer be perceived as friction-free. . . . All in all, her monograph makes a significant contribution not only to the history of missionary movements but also to transnational and global history."—H-Soz-u-Kult
University of Massachusetts Press

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