Race, Empire the United States and the Philippines
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006)
(Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006)
This essay, adapted from an article published in Foreign Affairs, explores the origins of the legend used by Donald Trump to justify torture and war crimes against terrorists: that Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing had Muslim prisoners in the Philippines shot with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. While the story is patently false, Pershing’s knowledge was well aware that his men attempted to terrorize Philippine Muslims with pigskin burials. It’s also important to explore what widespread American beliefs about Muslims the story traded in: approached in this way, the Pershing legend emerges not just as Trumpian fabrication, but as an archetypal parable of the “war on terror.”
What role might historians committed to democratic and egalitarian politics play in challenging authoritarianism? This essay takes on conventional claims that history is absent from public debate, and that it has “lessons” to teach, arguing instead that historical thinking is ever-present and that historians can and should play a critical role in defending and deepening open societies at risk: through the making of generative pasts that undermine inevitabilities, recover lost emancipatory possibilities, and cultivate empathy.
This essay puts contemporary anti-immigrant politics in historical perspective by narrating clashes between rival ideas of the United States and its relationship to immigration: an asylum ideal which held that the United States, as a republic, must offer refuge to the oppressed of all nations, and competing visions of a besieged America in need of racial and ideological protection. The claim that xenophobia is “not who we are” won’t withstand historical scrutiny, but there are also imperfect, countervailing traditions based on welcome, generosity and connection worth revisiting.
This short historiographic essay, part of a roundtable on the history of Pacific empires, describes three broadly-defined approaches to Pacific history: critical empire histories focusing on the Pacific as a space of European, US and Japanese military, colonial and commercial projection and inter-imperial war; indigenist histories centering on the societies and cultures of Islanders; and connectionist histories seeking to integrate the Pacific into broader regional, ethnic and global narratives. It discusses the strengths and limitations of each framework and makes the case for dialogues and interchanges between them.
This investigative history examines the consequences of war and securitization after 9/11 for US disaster preparedness, using the example of the post-Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. While commonly understood as separate events, the “war on terror” and Hurricane Katrina were deeply entwined, from the siphoning away of natural disaster resources from FEMA for anti-terrorist purposes, to the militarization of post-disaster rescue, relief and security. In weaving these stories together, the piece raises broader questions about the relationship between global military projection and “domestic” well-being.
These brief memos, written for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, discuss the writing of “Desert, Storm,” which the Center supported. They provide an overview of the essay, review the research process, and discusses reasons why the story may have remained largely unknown until now.
This historiographic essay discusses, promotes and critiques “new histories of American capitalism,” arguing for the benefits of reframing this enterprise methodologically, as political-economic history, and making the case for the necessity and multiple, reciprocal benefits of connecting histories of capitalism to histories of the United States in the world. It then presents ongoing research by historians of the US in the world that deals with political-economic themes, including scholarship on commodities, consumption, law, debt, militarization, migration, labor, race and knowledge regimes.
This historiographic essay explores and critiques existing approaches to the study of racialized power in the United States’ transnational histories and, especially, the study of US foreign relations. It advances a new conceptual approach to histories of racialization, and discussing race as a dimension of sovereignty, policy-making, culture, transnational solidarities, cross-national transfer, migration, capitalism and militarization.
This essay argues for an imperial lens onto migration history by focusing on “civilized” exemptions to anti-Chinese barriers in the late 19th and early 20th century. U. S. exporters, missionaries and diplomats opposed totalized Chinese exclusion and lobbied successfully for the exemption of Chinese merchants, students, teachers and tourists, who were seen to be agents of U. S. commercial and cultural power in East Asia.
This essay explores the ambiguities and politics of border-making through the history of the Chamizal, an area of about seven hundred acres contested by Mexico and the United States for a century. In the mid-19th century, American and Mexican boundary surveyors established that the border between the two countries would be located at the Rio Grande’s deepest point, but political difficulties arose when the river flooded, geographically connecting what had been established as Mexican territory to the United States’ side of the river. The river’s disinterest in serving as a stable boundary-marker proved a thorny issue between states, even as migrants to the Chamizal built a dynamic, cross-border social world.
This essay tells the story of the U. S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, emphasizing the ways that controversies over its uses and legal status have long and troubling histories. US access to the bay emerged from coercive diplomacy between the U. S. and Cuba in the early 20th century; American control, the terms of which were ambiguous from the start, would be challenged by Cubans and Americans, and new uses for the base repeatedly found when older ones collapsed.
This is a fuller, more detailed version of the above essay, on the history of the U. S. naval base at Guantánamo.
This essay discusses present-day anti-immigration laws through California’s 19th-century struggle with the federal government over immigration. When, in August 1874, 22 Chinese women were barred from landing at San Francisco by a California official who identified them as “lewd and debauched”—undesirable immigrants under state law—they took the case to the Supreme Court. Its 1876 decision, Chy Lung v. Freeman, asserted federal primacy over immigration while condemning officials’ superficial profiling of immigrants, establishing a durable precedent.
This article discusses the possibilities and limitations of region as a subject and frame for the writing of global histories. It explores competing definitions of the term “region” and, embarking from constructivist premises that cast regions as socio-political projects embedded in modern state territoriality, reviews some of the ways sub-state regions and multistate regions (such as regional federations and alliance systems) have interacted with the global environment.
This historiographic essay explores recent innovations in the rescaling of U. S. historical writing and makes the case for the imperial as an analytic category necessary to this effort. Thinking with the imperial, it argues, foregrounds asymmetries of power and connections between societies, while facilitating non-exceptionalist comparisons. The essay’s themes include exceptionalism, methodological nationalism, structure and agency, and the oscillating presence of the imperial in U. S. historiography.
This essay looks at American civil service reformers’ debates over the administration of U. S. colonies after 1898 and their understandings of colonialism’s impact on metropolitan American politics and vice versa. Some reformers hoped the colonial state would sponsor innovations in “pure,” expert governance that would—by what they called “reflex action”—spark innovations in the metropole.
This essay argues for the necessity of examining U. S. colonialism in the Philippines in the early 20th century as a self-conscious successor to Spanish colonial rule. While Americans consistently depicted Spanish colonialism as decadent and oppressive, they also selectively borrowed Spain’s institutional models, personnel and built environment in the Islands; this preliminary exploration, published in Spanish, discusses military, political, legal and racial-scientific dimensions of these “trans-imperial” crossings.
An English-language version of “Historias Transimperiales.”
The essay explores the U. S. military’s regulation of prostitution during the Philippine-American War, and a resulting scandal, as a lens onto the cultural history of U. S. imperial boundaries. Reformers politicized the program, which mandated the venereal inspection of sex workers in order to protect U. S. soldiers, by raising questions about the permeability of the United States not only to disease, but to colonial influences.
This narrative piece, selected by The Best American Essays 2012 as a “notable essay,” tells the story of Rev. Jesse Routté, an African American Lutheran minister in New York who, in response to racist abuse during a 1943 trip to Mobile, Alabama, returned four years later disguised as a turbaned, Swedish-accented “foreigner.” When he reported positive treatment, it flaunted contradictions in Jim Crow’s racial definitions.
This essay argues for the study of international student migration to the United States as an element of U. S. international history, and presents a typology and chronology of student “exchange” since the late 19th century. It traces the emergence of four modes of student migration (missionary, colonial, self-strengthening, and corporate-internationalist), student migration’s geopoliticization, and a recent, neoliberal turn.
This essay summarizes the methodological approach and themes of The Blood of Government. Beginning with a critique of conventional, “export” models of transnational cultural history, it provides a definition of “transnational” history and employs this technique to illuminate Philippine-American colonial encounters of the early 20th century through changing racial discourses constructed in both the United States and the Philippines.
This essay briefly summarizes the methodological approach and themes of The Blood of Government. It provides a definition of “transnational” history and employs this technique to illuminate Philippine-American colonial encounters of the early 20th century through changing racial discourses constructed in both the United States and the Philippines.
This narrative essay tells the story of U. S. soldiers’ use of water torture during the Philippine-American War, its exposure by American anti-colonialist critics, and the ensuing 1902 Senate investigation and public debate over the legitimacy of the “water cure” and U. S. colonial warfare more generally.
This essay discusses racialization and colonial warfare as entangled processes during the Philippine-American War. Changing American visions of the Philippine population, and Filipino efforts to affect those visions, informed the shifting nature of U. S. combat; similarly, the dynamics of combat—especially guerrilla warfare—intensified Americans’ racialization of Filipino combatants and civilians.
This essay introduces a new edition of Leon Wolff’s Little Brown Brother and places the book in the larger context of American historical writing about the Philippine-American War. It argues that the lively narrative history played a critical, if still partial, role in the decolonizing of the war’s history for American audiences.
This essay discusses the profound ways that Americans’ debates about U. S. colonialism after 1898 were shaped by their reflections on British colonialism. Colonialism’s critics contrasted the British Empire’s tyranny with what they saw as U. S. national-exceptionalist freedom; colonialism’s defenders adapted Anglo-Saxonist ideology to make a racial-exceptionalist case for the inevitability of U. S. colonial rule.
This essay looks at black-Jewish relations in early 20th century Baltimore through the lens of racial practices carried out in the city’s department stores, most of them owned and operated by Jewish families. Discrimination in these stores—such as a no-returns policy for African-American clothing customers—made them institutions of racial marking, as well as sites of anti-racist protest.
This article opens a special issue of the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History dedicated to selected papers given at the 2000 conference “Pairing Empires: Britain and the United States, 1857-1947.” It introduces the papers and discusses the conference’s goal of framing a conversation about inter-imperial scholarship—the study of connections and comparisons between imperial formations—centered on Anglo-American interaction during the era of “high imperialism.”
This article, winner of SHAFR’s Bernath Article Prize, reexamines the racial politics of empire at the 1904 St. Louis Fair with an eye towards the tense intersection of metropolitan and colonial agendas. Where traditional accounts emphasize the coherence of world’s fair racial hierarchies, the Philippine Exhibition at the St. Louis Fair, to the contrary, saw clashes over the appropriate way to display the United States’ consolidating colonial regime and its subjects.
This essay discusses the ways the Spanish-Cuban-American War and Philippine-American War were experienced at Princeton University. The wars prompted politics professor Woodrow Wilson to ponder the implications of colonialism for American institutions, served as a topic for inter-collegiate debate, and saw a former undergraduate from Cuba serve as a Spanish-language interpreter for the U. S. military in the Philippines.