Reading Failure in the Colonial Archive/Reinscribing Defeat in Imperial History: The British Occupation of Manila (1762–64) and the Decline of Spain’s Pacific Empire

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:40 PM
International Ballroom A (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Kristie Patricia Flannery, University of Texas at Austin
A combined British Royal Navy and East India Company Fleet invaded Manila in September 1762, at the height of the Seven Years War. The walled centre of the city quickly fell to the British after days of heavy shelling and fighting as the British anticipated, but nothing else about the occupation went to plan. The invaders failed to win the support of indigenous peoples and seize control of Manila’s crucial hinterland. The Spanish colonial government raised a multi-ethnic royalist army of 10,000 men that fought against the British until they withdrew from the colony, defeated, in April 1764. Adding salt to the wound, Spain never paid a real of the four million dollar ransom that Britain boldly demanded for the return of “the Metropolis of the Philippine Islands.”

This paper probes perceptions of the British occupation of Manila as a British failure articulated by those Company officials and Naval officers who had been on the ground in the Philippines in the public pamphlets and private correspondence they produced in the aftermath of the war. It also traces how their profound sense of defeat was eventually erased from the historical record: by the mid-20th century, British imperial historians reinterpreted the occupation as a resounding success, reinscribing it as another step in Empire’s inevitable march towards domination of the Pacific world. I consider how the disappearance of defeat influenced enduring metanarratives of empire in Pacific and Global history, and what can be gained by viewing the past through the lens of failure.

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