Kenton Clymer

Presidential Research Professor
History Department

I was born in Brooklyn, NY but grew up in Naperville, Illinois. I graduated from Grinnell College and received my Ph.D. in American history from the University of Michigan. This was during the Vietnam War, and all of us in college at that time were intensely interested in Southeast Asian development. Nevertheless, my dissertation was not on a Southeast Asian topic per se, but was rather a study of the ideas of John Hay, secretary of state from 1898-1905.

As it happened Hay was in office when the United States annexed the Philippines, and he had some very interesting correspondence with American officials in the Philippines. This sparked my own interest in the Philippines, and eventually led to a book entitled, American Protestant Missionaries in the Philippines, 1898-1916: An Inquiry into the American Colonial Mentality (Urbana:  University of Illinois Press, 1986).

While I was writing this book, I applied for a Fulbright grant that allowed me to teach at Silliman University in Dumaguete City in the Philippines. It was a life changing experience that got me deeply interested in American relations with the region, and I subsequently taught for a year in Malaysia and a year in Indonesia (the latter also a Fulbright appointment).

I also spent six months in India doing research, which led to another book entitled, Quest for Freedom: The United States and India’s Independence (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

I then returned to a Southeast Asian topic and wrote a two-volume study of the history of American relations with Cambodia from 1872 to 2000 (London: Routledge, 2004). This study won the Robert H. Ferrell Book Prize in 2005 for "distinguished scholarship in the history of American foreign relations" from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.  A revised, abridged, updated, and much less expensive is now available, entitled  Troubled Relations: The United States and Cambodia since 1870 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007).

I finished up the Cambodia study while teaching in China in 2003-04 as a  “Distinguished Fulbright Lecturer” at Renmin (Peoples) University in Beijing. This experience got me very interested in Chinese involvement in Southeast Asia, including Chinese attitudes about American involvement in the region, and vice versa.  After teaching in China, I moved to Northern Illinois University to chair the history department. (Prior to that I had taught for over thirty years at the University of Texas at El Paso.)  

I particularly enjoy teaching a course entitled, “The United States in Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent,” which I teach at both the upper division and graduate levels. I also teach “American and Asia,” “American Foreign Relations to 1914,” and “American Foreign Relations Since 1914.”

I am currently researching a book about the history of United States relations with Burma.  During the 2011-2012 academic year I was on leave at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, where I hope to finish the book.