Empires Proxy

Empires Proxy: American Literature and U.S. Imperialism in the Philippines

Meg Wesling
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Empires Proxy
    Book Description:

    In the late nineteenth century, American teachers descended on the Philippines, which had been newly purchased by the U.S. at the end of the Spanish-American War. Motivated by President McKinley's project of benevolent assimilation, they established a school system that centered on English language and American literature to advance the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, which was held up as justification for the U.S.'s civilizing mission and offered as a promise of moral uplift and political advancement. Meanwhile, on American soil, the field of American literature was just being developed and fundamentally, though invisibly, defined by this new, extraterritorial expansion.Drawing on a wealth of material, including historical records, governmental documents from the War Department and the Bureau of Insular Affairs, curriculum guides, memoirs of American teachers in the Philippines, and 19th century literature, Meg Wesling not only links empire with education, but also demonstrates that the rearticulation of American literary studies through the imperial occupation in the Philippines served to actually define and strengthen the field. Empire's Proxy boldly argues that the practical and ideological work of colonial dominance figured into the emergence of the field of American literature, and that the consolidation of a canon of American literature was intertwined with the administrative and intellectual tasks of colonial management.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9541-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Educated Subjects: Literary Production, Colonial Expansion, and the Pedagogical Public Sphere
    (pp. 1-35)

    In an impassioned speech delivered to Congress on January 9, 1900, Albert J. Beveridge, a Republican senator from Indiana, argued for the manifold advantages of U. S. dominion over the Philippine Islands. Addressing his remarks specifically to the anti-imperialist critics among his fellow senators, Beveridge outlined an expansionist doctrine based on the moral, material, and religious import of the territory:

    The Philippines are ours forever…. And just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either. We will not repudiate our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon our opportunity in the Orient. We will...

  5. 1 The Alchemy of English: Colonial State-Building and the Imperial Origins of American Literary Study
    (pp. 36-68)

    This chapter tells one story, about the origins of the field of English at the end of the nineteenth century, by way of three shorter stories, each a different episode in the history of English as a language, an academic field, and a literature. Let me begin in August 1898, in Saratoga, New York, where, at a meeting of the American Social Science Association (ASSA), Dr. Holbrook Curtis put forth the idea of forming a special committee of men in literature and the arts. Curtis was not a professional literary man but a throat specialist from New York and an...

  6. 2 Empire’s Proxy: Literary Study as Benevolent Discipline
    (pp. 69-103)

    On February 11, 1899, five days after the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, the popular weekly satirical illustrated magazineJudgepublished a political cartoon in which it offered a concise commentary on the United States’s new colonial acquisitions. Entitled “Our New Topsy,” the cartoon drew on the overwhelming popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental novel,Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by reanimating Stowe’s famous pair, the orphaned slave child Topsy and the prim Yankee aunt, Miss Ophelia. Engaged in a new drama of racial dominance, the Filipino revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo is recast as the defiant Topsy, dancing with a wide...

  7. 3 Agents of Assimilation: Female Authority, Male Domesticity, and the Familial Dramas of Colonial Tutelage
    (pp. 104-138)

    In the late morning of July 23, 1901, crowds of people gathered at Pier 12 of the San Francisco wharf to bid farewell to the U. S. transport ship theThomas. Among the ship’s passengers were 509 American teachers on their way to the Philippines, enlisted to work in the fledgling public school system instituted during the U. S. occupation of the islands.¹ The Thomasites, as the teachers came to be called, were not the first envoy of Americans recruited to teach in the Philippines; theSheridanhad arrived a month earlier, bringing with it forty-eight teachers, and more were...

  8. 4 The Performance of Patriotism: Ironic Affiliations and Literary Disruptions in Carlos Bulosan’s America
    (pp. 139-162)

    In late 1902, the adjutant general of the Insular Bureau of the U. S. War Department received a letter from Lt. Col. Richard Pratt, headmaster of the Indian Industrial Training School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on the subject of the education of Filipinos. Pratt’s purpose in the letter was to propose the Carlisle plan as a method of educating young Filipino men and women; such a plan, sketched broadly, was to bring Filipinos “in as great numbers as practicable” to the United States to live among and be educated by “good Americans” for, as Pratt asserted, “It will hardly be disputed...

  9. Conclusion: “An Empire of Letters”: Literary Tradition, National Sovereignty, and Neocolonialism
    (pp. 163-176)

    In the December 1900 issue ofNorth American Review, William Dean Howells offered a scathing critique of the “new historical romances,” as fiction that would “in a measure and for a while debauch the minds and through their minds the morals of their readers.”¹ Warning that the American sentimental and spectacular texts risked effecting a collective lowering of the intellectual and literary spirit of the nation, Howells clarified his critique, saying:

    I do not think it by any means a despicable thing to have hit the fancy of our enormous commonplace average. Some of the best and truest books have...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 177-212)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-228)
  12. Index
    (pp. 229-235)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 236-236)