The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era


Childhood's Imperial Imagination: Edward Stratemeyer's Fiction Factory and the Valorization of American Empire1

Brian Rouleaua1

a1 University of Pennsylvania

Numerous studies have appeared in recent years that deal with the reasons and rationalizations that accompanied America's overseas acquisitions in 1898. This article uses juvenile series fiction to examine how the nation's youth—boys in particular—became targets of imperial boosterism. In the pages of adventure novels set against the backdrop of American interventions in the Caribbean and the Philippines, Edward Stratemeyer, the most successful author and publisher of youth series fiction, and other less well-known juvenile fiction producers offered sensationalistic dramas that advocated a racialist, expansionistic foreign policy. Stratemeyer and others offered American boys an imaginative space as participants in and future stewards of national triumph. Young readers, the article argues further, became active participants in their own politicization. An examination of the voluminous fan mail sent to series fiction authors by their juvenile admirers reveals boys' willingness, even eagerness, to participate in the ascendancy of the United States.

Currently a graduate student in the history department at the University of Pennsylvania. He is working on a dissertation that addresses intercultural contacts between American seamen and the wider world.


1 For their invaluable assistance, advice, and suggestions, the author would like to thank Amy Kaplan, Kathy Peiss, John Pollack, Daniel Richter, Michael Zuckerman, the staff at both the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division, and two anonymous readers at the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.