Position

AHA President, 1948

Institution

Yale University

From the American Historical Review 74:4 (April 1969)

Kenneth Scott Latourette (August 6, 1884–December 26, 1968) was professor of missions and Oriental history at Yale University. In a long, active, and fruitful life that ended on December 26, Kenneth Scott Latourette (president of the American Historical Association in 1948) combined at least three successful careers-as an evangelical Christian, as a historian of China, and as a historian of the expansion of Christianity. He was born in Oregon City of parents who were devout Baptists, and he lived his life in the service of Christian faith, careful scholarship, and good works. The scope of his Christian interests steadily broadened, from Sunday school, Bible classes, and the YMCA to the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions and eventually the ecumenical movement in general. He helped set up the World Council of Churches in 1938, was active for many years in the International Missionary Council, and meanwhile served on the boards of Yale-in-China, Oberlin-in-China, Nanking Theological Seminary, the International YMCA, the United Board for the Christian Colleges in China, and many other institutions. In 1951–1952 he was president of the American Baptist Convention. Such posts involved much sustained activity, in Christian fellowship with a multitude of warm friends and coworkers around the world.

After obtaining a BS from Linfield College at McMinnville, Oregon, in 1904, Latourette transferred to Yale. He went into history almost casually, yet it proved to be the major outlet for his intellectual talent. He graduated in the class of 1906 already determined to become a missionary teacher at Yale-in-China in Changsha. But in preparation for this career he took a PhD in history in 1909, studying under George Burton Adams, Edward Gaylord Bourne, and K. Asakawa and writing his dissertation on early Sino-American relations to 1844 under Frederick Wells Williams. He reached Changsha in 1910 and studied Chinese, but dysentery forced him to return to Oregon to recuperate in 1912. There he began to teach history, both of China and of Christian missions, first at Reed, then at Denison, and finally at Yale—from 1921 as professor of missions in the Divinity School, from 1927 as professor also of Oriental history in the history department, and eventually as Sterling Professor in both subjects. Here he found his calling. A bachelor and a systematic and unremitting worker, self-trained to write two thousand words a morning, rain or shine, he produced in all some ninety separate volumes of which at least forty were substantial hard-cover books, mostly in history. Best known and valued in their fields were his balanced summary, The Chinese: Their History and Culture (2 vols., 1934; 3d rev. ed., 1964) and his pathbreaking, comprehensive work, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (7 vols., 1937-45). But there was a host of other volumes, some chronicling a new subject like the YMCA World Service, others written for different audiences to summarize narratives already worked out.

Latourette was a scientific historian of the prerelativistic school, a scholar who thoroughly combed the literature, amassed the factual record, and organized it in serviceable prose that was clear, judicious, and unimpassioned. His scope expanded with his work, from A History of Christian Missions in China (1929) to missions everywhere, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and a concern for the ecumenical unity of the church throughout the world. In view of this major interest, it is all the more remarkable that he should have been also the major historian to introduce several generations of American students to the whole range of Chinese civilization. After his retirement at Yale in 1953, he remained an active fellow of Berkeley College, and in 1954–1955 he served as president of the Far Eastern Association (now the Association for Asian Studies). The five volumes of Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, that is, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, were published in 1958–1962. Holding to his own faith so firmly, Latourette was a man of broad tolerance and eternal optimism; his work was generally commended for its impartiality. Few historians have instructed so many about distant countries or laid so solid a factual foundation in a newly developing field.

 

Bibliography

The history of early relations between the United States and China, 1784-1844, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917.

The development of Japan, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. Pub. under the auspices of the Japan Society. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918.

The Christian basis of world democracy, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. New York: Association Press, 1919.

China under the republic, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. New York, The Institute of international education, 1921.

The Chinese, their history and culture, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1934.

A history of the expansion of Christianity, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. 7 vols. New York; London: Harper & Brothers, 1937-1945.

Toward a world Christian fellowship, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. New York: Association Press, 1938.

Anno Domini; Jesus, history and God, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1940.

The unquenchable light, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1941.

The Gospel, the church and the world, by Kenneth Scott Latourette, editor. First edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, Pub., 1946; Reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Library Press, 1970.

A short history of the Far East, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1946.

The United States moves across the Pacific; the A.B.C.’s of the American problem in the western Pacific and the Far East, by Kenneth Scott Latourette New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1946.

The Christian outlook. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1948.

The emergence of a world Christian community. New Haven: Pub. for the Rice Institute by Yale Univ. Press, 1949.

Missions and the American mind. Indianapolis: National Foundation Press, 1949.

These sought a country. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1950.

The American record in the Far East, 1945-1951. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

A history of Christianity, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1953; Reprint, Rev. ed. 2 vols. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

Challenge and conformity; studies in the interaction of Christianity and the world of today. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1955.

Christianity in a revolutionary age: a history of Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, by Kenneth Scott Latourette. 1st ed. 5 vols. New York: Harper, 1958-62.

Christianity through the ages. 1st ed. New York, Harper & Row, 1965.

The twentieth century outside Europe: the Americas, the Pacific, Asia, and Africa: the emerging world Christian community. Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press, 1973, 1962.