The Sites and Sights of Empires Islands: Seeing, Mapping, and Managing Imaginaries of the American Colonial Philippines

AHA Session 79
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Room 603 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Simeon Man, University of California, San Diego
Adrian De Leon, University of Toronto
Roneva Keel, University of Washington
Benjamin Weber, Harvard University

Session Abstract

This roundtable explores the production of racial knowledge in the Philippines under American rule, synthesizing studies of four imperial projects: military expeditions, agricultural settlement schemes, tourism, and carceral systems. As the U.S. expanded into the Pacific in the early twentieth century, the ongoing insurrection and unfamiliar tropical environment of the Philippines generated anxieties about the American capacity to rule the distant archipelago. American authorities crafted and mobilized representations of the Philippines in order to render its peoples and geography legible to themselves and to a trans-Pacific American public. The power of visuality in forging these racial geographies emerges as a salient feature of this panel. Staged photographs in the first Philippine census purported to illustrate gradients of civilization among Filipinos, while influential figures like Dean Worcester used photographs of non-Christian tribes to craft a narrative of progress about the Philippines that promoted ongoing U.S. intervention in the islands.

Working with materials such as photographs, censuses, postcards, music, and survey maps, panelists will briefly present research on colonial representations of the Philippines, revealing entangled productions of knowledge about race, gender, and place in the islands. Presenters critically examine these colonial representations by deploying methodologies such as multimedia presentations and visual analysis. These insights intend to launch a discussion among panelists and audience members about how historians mobilize visual arguments in crafting their own representations of the past. The discussion hopes to reflect on both imperial productions and the historian’s practice in engaging with these representations.

Adrian De Leon will present synaesthetic readings of photographs of dog eating in the Benguet mountains during the early American military occupation of the Philippines. Drawing from visual culture and sensory studies, this approach endeavours to understand the bodies of military photographers (and other audiences across the Pacific) as they came to know themselves through disgust, savagery, tropical regression, and industry. Roneva Keel compares and contrasts agricultural settlement schemes in the Philippines and Hawai‘i to explore how American colonial land policy mobilized perceptions of race in U.S. expansionary designs. Her research analyzes efforts by American officials to facilitate migration and settlement within and among sites of U.S. Empire to harness the productive power of laboring Filipinos while containing the disruptive potential of racialized bodies within in imperial spaces. Tessa Winkelmann examines how American ideas and concerns over interracial sexual intercourse in large measure came to inform tourism in the colonial Philippines, from the production of imperial fantasy and desire, to the actual development of  colonial infrastructure. Representations in popular souvenir postcards and Tin Pan Alley sheet music in the United States demonstrate a prurient interests in interracial sexual intercourse while at the same time such relations were downplayed to promote a colonial capital that was a respectable destination locale. Benjamin Weber uses prison records and historical maps to examine how the production of geographic knowledge was entwined with the construction of criminality in the Philippines, and how both were transfigured into practices of incarceration, criminal transportation, and forced labor.

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