History graduate alum reveals research on Iowa’s Chinese immigrant history

On August 25th, 2022, people tuned into a dynamic virtual lecture about the history of Iowa’s Chinese immigration for the State Historical Society of Iowa’s online learning series. The speaker was UNI alum, Dr. Anthony Miller.

Purple and gold ran in Miller’s family, as his older siblings also attended UNI. Originally from Buffalo Center and Spirit Lake, Iowa, he and his older brother studied history at UNI and briefly participated in UNI’s wrestling team. Miller jokes that he decided to become a professor to compete with his older brother who is now a lawyer. He said that his brother is “really good looking, has a full head of hair, and is really successful. So as the little brother, I thought ‘the only way I can ever get one over on this guy is by becoming a professor’ because that was one of his dreams.” His lifelong love of reading also motivated him to pursue an academic career. 

A primary inspiration for applying to UNI’s history MA program was UNI’s history professors. Speaking specifically about Dr. Roberts, Miller recalled that “Dr. Roberts was one of the coolest people I've ever met. He gave these wild lectures; he knew all about pop culture; he knew everything. He once gave this great lecture on baseball and capitalism. He had the cool jacket; he talked to students in such a funny, sarcastic way. He was just everything that I wanted to be as a college professor.” 

He also admired Dr. Barbara Cutter’s patience with teaching and employment of teaching theories like active and experiential learning with practice. For instance, she engaged her students in the process of learning by posing difficult questions and patiently waiting for the answers. Miller has tried to replicate such skilled teaching in his classroom.

He loved the books the history professors assigned because they dealt with concepts like cultural studies, class identities, and intersectionality. Miller felt that the UNI History Department positively impacts so many students because they support research, courses, and programming comparable to a large research facility.

Miller’s research centers on immigrants’ and missionaries’ mobility and subjectivity. He first became interested in the topic while working on his master’s thesis at UNI. His thesis was about missionaries from Wheaton College who were killed by indigenous peoples from Ecuador. Miller was fascinated to learn that the missionaries were secretly working for Shell Oil on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency. Miller continued the theme of immigrant and missionary subjectivity during his PhD program, for his dissertation centered on Chinese Chistians who were expelled by the People’s Republic of China.

Discussing Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, Miller stated, “I write about how they're not sinners and they're not saints” and how people’s actions are impacted by their historical contexts and structures. He studies their circumstances without reifying their oppression. Miller focuses on their unique perspectives while living in the U.S. 

Among many of his academic accomplishments is his research on Chinese Pioneers in Iowa, where he tries to capture the first Chinese Iowans’ subjectivity in his paper. He scoured digitized newspapers, online databases, and census records for his evidence. “I used a lot of census records to see patterns in when Chinese Iowans moved around the state and established businesses or changed residences” to better understand their subjectivity. 

He currently teaches World and East Asian history at Hanover College. Recent courses include Modern East Asia, World History Since 1500, Modern China, among others. Dr. Wallace Hettle, one of Miller’s UNI history professors said, “Dr. Miller's success comes as no surprise. I taught him a little bit about history, but he taught me just as much. He worked hard and thought even harder. He will do great things at Hanover College

Dr. Anthony Miller teaching in a classroom during COVID-19.
Dr. Anthony Miller


Whitman Cler