Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Andrew Haley

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Heather Stur

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Jeff Bowersox

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Matthew Casey

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Eric Tribunella

Committee Member 5 School



Early on June 12, 1940, H. A. and Margret Rey peddled past thousands of refugees heading south toward France’s border with Spain hoping to escape the German army. The few possessions the couple carried with them included an unpublished manuscript of Curious George. After three days of cycling, they caught a train to Bayonne in southern France where their shared Brazilian passport helped secure visas to travel through Spain and Portugal. Here they purchased tickets to board a ship for Brazil and from there they would emigrate to the United States. That October, they arrived in New York where they began their lives anew and built a literary empire founded on their popular children’s story about the curious monkey named George.

“Curious George’s Imperial Adventure: An Intellectual Biography of a Fictional Monkey’s Translation from German into American Imperialism” argues that the popular reception of Curious George after 1960 reveals the European influence on the imperial culture of everyday Americans. Reconstructing the larger world wherein the Reys created Curious George makes clear how the Reys’ experiences in Europe and South America shaped George’s story and reminds us that America’s Cold War imperialism was not a novel experiment in colonialism, but an embrace of Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden” that built on Europe’s long history of subjugating the globe.

This intellectual biography of Curious George examines the Reys’ lives in four different countries and three continents. George’s international story draws on sources from eight manuscript collections, two of which have never been used by scholars researching the Reys. Although receiving scant attention from previous scholars, Rey’s childhood trips to Tierpark, Margret Rey’s experience as a young artist, the couple’s Brazilian advertising work, and their literary work in interwar Paris reveal the intellectual forces that shaped an American cultural icon. Melding biography, cultural theory, and literary analysis, “Curious George’s Imperial Adventure” demonstrates the critical intersection of ideas about race, empire, and art that not only made Curious George one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, but also made the tale about a curious monkey a landmark in the history of imperialism.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 12, 2172