The Road to New Empire: The Benguet Road and U.S. Designs on the Philippines

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 12:00 PM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Rebecca Tinio McKenna, University of Notre Dame
In “The Road to New Empire: The Benguet Road and U.S. Designs on the Philippines,” I will discuss the construction of the colonial road to Baguio, a mountaintop retreat for U.S. officials, soldiers, and their families and the eventual summer capital of the U.S. colonial Philippines. While designs for Baguio would not commence until the arrival of Progressive urban planner Daniel Burnham in late 1904, work on the Benguet Road began early in the U.S. occupation of the archipelago. In fact the first act by the Philippine Commission, the colonial administrative body, pitched funds to this project in 1900. Nearly five years later, after three engineers and $2 million, the builders announced the completion of the twenty-six mile road, hailing it as testament to Americans’ managerial might. American engineers famously recruited and organized over 2000 workers of forty-six nationalities for the job, and they tested a variety of means to gather these men and make them tractable. They found that the most reliable workers came from provinces where residents were hungry. Those confronting the deprivations precipitated by imperial war, it turned out, were more readily enlisted to work the road, and in that way, support an imperial state that had helped to create those very circumstances. This paper connects the acquisition and disciplining of labor for Benguet Road to the environmental consequences of imperial war and also to the rules of dispossession instituted by the colonial government. These policies of dispossession included forestry laws implemented with the help of a “father of conservation,” Gifford Pinchot. Beyond pointing to the Pacific crossings of American Progressives, this paper links the management of labor and the environment—methods of rule and ways of knowing—to colonial state and nation-building in the Philippines, and it calls into question our notions of “new” empire.
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