Filipino/a Labor and the Limits of U.S. Imperialism, 1900–20

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 12:00 PM
Washington Room 6 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Nathan E. Roberts, Wake Forest University
Nathan E Roberts
Wake Forest University
Abstract AHA 2014

Filipino/a Labor and the Limits of U.S. Imperialism, 1900-1920

This paper examines the first two decades of U.S. forestry in the Philippines. It confronts the dominant historical narrative that American machinery, modernization, and methods generated broad environmental changes in Philippine forests. By examining records of the Philippine Bureau of Forestry and scientific documents, I demonstrate that new market opportunities, traditional practices, and Filipino/a labor initiated environmental change and new trans-Pacific interest in Philippine forests. After 1900, Americans established the narrative that U.S. methods and machinery were modernizing the Philippine timber and lumber industries. Historians have largely accepted this narrative in order to criticize U.S. imperialism for subsequent Philippine deforestation. However, more than American initiative, Filipino/as sought out new market opportunities and used traditional methods to bring Philippine forest products to international markets. This perspective illuminates some limits to U.S. imperialism. It suggests social and environmental consequences emerged beyond those limits that resource managers lacked the ability to either anticipate or control.

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