In 1818, William Goodell (the missionary) introduced his relative, Lucy Goodale to his college friend Asa Thurston. Lucy Goodale and Asa Thurston were two of the earliest American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions' missionaries in Hawai'i. Over the course of the 19th century, the missionaries in Hawai'i invested heavily in sugar plantations and helped take over the islands including the coup that overthrew Queen Lili'uokalani. They eventually led the movement for U.S. annexation of the island nation.
Over the past decade, the study of missionaries from the United States has grown in leaps and bounds. Much of this work presumes that missionaries were always outsiders to the societies they evangelized however their children often grew up speaking local languages without a trace of an accent, and seeing the world through local lenses. This process of acculturation signals that the work of conversion was often a two-way street, and that the experience of living abroad for several generations profoundly shaped communities of missionaries.
In the Middle East, the American missionaries become involved in activities later associated with the Peace Corps, from building schools to carrying out famine relief. In Hawai'i, the American missionaries were involved in the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and the annexation of the islands to the United States. Finally, in the south of the United States, in the aftermath of the Civil War, missionaries built most of the historically black colleges and struggled against the racism of Jim Crow.
Miller's current research (including sources from the Congregational Library & Archives) brings these strands of missionary history together in the broader framework of world history. Research for his second book follows the story of a single missionary family, the Goodell or Goodale, across three generations from New England to the Ottoman Empire, Appalachian Mountains and Hawai'i.