A Global History of American Boy Scouting, 1910-1960
My research project probes the transnational exchanges and global entanglements of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) from the Progressive Era to the early Cold War. Founded in 1910, the BSA grew rapidly to become one of the largest American youth organizations of the twentieth century. Its emphasis on character-building, patriotism, and faith in God, coupled with the goal of training boys in outdoor skills and responsible citizenship, made the organization extremely popular, especially among white middle-class Americans.
American Boy Scouts en route to the 1929 World Jamboree in Birkenhead, England.
While boy scouting has left copious traces in American national life, the BSA has always interacted with the wider world. Shortly after its inception, the organization branched out into the country's extraterritorial possessions. Overseas councils were established in the Panama Canal Zone, the Philippines, and Guam. In the Interwar Period, the BSA joined the transnational bodies of global scouting, the Boy Scouts' International Conference and the World Scout Bureau, and sent delegations to the World Scout Jamborees, large rallies of boy scouts of various nationalities that have been held almost every four years since 1920. After the Second World War, the BSA supported the United Nations and launched the Transatlantic and Far East Councils to make boy scouting available to U.S. citizens and their allies living on the front lines of the Cold War.
I am interested in studying how the BSA molded young male identities at home and abroad, and how these identities enabled American boys and men to accept, support, and critique their nation's global presence in the twentieth century. Their entanglements in circumstances beyond national borders not only highlight the role of youth in widening America's "external footprint," to borrow a phrase from Ian Tyrrell. They also demonstrate that U.S. global expansion was tied to articulations of new cultural ideals of boyhood and manhood. Advertising overseas adventure and border-crossing adolescent friendship, boy scouting invited young American males to grapple with urgent questions about their country's relationship to a wider world of political and cultural affairs - questions that were worked out on the outer rims of American society as well as at its center.