Colonial Connections: Comparison, Exchange, and Entanglement in the American Empire

AHA Session 64
Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 1
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Room 502 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Theresa Ventura, Concordia University
Theresa Ventura, Concordia University

Session Abstract

The United States was a late entrant to the colonial contest. As such, agents of this nascent imperial formation keenly observed strategies of rule in European colonies. Competitive and collaborative in near equal measure, Americans adapted practices and policies from their European predecessors, as well as exporting their own strategies of rule abroad. These actors also created grand historical narratives that recast the United States relative to the histories of global power, yet paradoxically celebrated American exceptionalism. At times, such narratives melded into an imperial lingua franca that cast Anglo-Americans in the role of reluctant colonials. After acquiring ultramarine possessions in the late-nineteenth century, Americans entered into transcolonial circuits of exchange involving ideas, personnel, and commercial goods. This panel explores these developments, with each presenter positioning themselves relative to recent globally informed scholarship on the topic. 

The first paper by Gregg French challenges beliefs in American exceptionalism and the Black Legend narrative by examining how American venerated Spain’s imperial past through the erection of monuments and planning of celebratory events in both metropolitan and colonial settings. Second, Patrick M. Kirkwood comparatively analyzes justifications for U.S. involvement in the Spanish-Philippine-American War and British involvement in the South African War. Shifting to Southeast Asia, Oliver Charbonneau concludes with a study of how Americans adopted and modified violent techniques from other empires to crush Islamic resistance in the Southern Philippines. Theresa Ventura of Concordia University will serve as both chair and commentator for the panel. Dr. Ventura’s research focuses on the medical, agricultural, and environmental aspects of U.S. colonial administration in the Philippine Archipelago during the first half of the twentieth century.

Collectively, the panel considers how, from the last quarter of the nineteenth century until the Second World War, American empire shaped and was shaped by supraregional connectivities. Each contribution suggests ways of studying the topic that incorporate the American experience into global histories of empire. This integrative approach allows our papers to eschew exceptionalist paradigms without obliterating nuance in the process, and contributes to the larger scholarly conversation about America in the world.

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