- Import of the Archive: U.S. Colonial Rule of the Philippines and the Making of American Archival History by Cheryl Beredo
Since the early 2000s, a growing body of literature has been interrogating colonial archives and the continuing effects of colonial modes of archiving and research on knowledge production, memory, and identity. By examining the colonial archives built by American forces during the US rule of the Philippines, between 1898 and 1916, Cheryl Beredo’s Import of the Archive contributes to this literature by both tracing out the archival logic of American colonial rule and situating American archives and archiving within what historian Tony Ballantyne has called the imperial web through which archival materials, peoples, and ideas circulated.1
While its examination of the US’s imperial archival logic makes Import worth reading, Beredo’s book is important for also challenging the Eurocentrism that continues to marginalize colonies as sites where the modern world and its archiving were developed. Focused on the years between the outset of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Autonomy Act, Beredo’s exploration of the changing role of archives in America’s imperial exploits is nonetheless expansive. Comprising five chapters, Import is primarily organized around three ways that archives were involved in US imperial politics: supporting the colonization of the Philippine islands and their inhabitants; instigating an anti-imperial archives; and transforming the islands and their people through land registration. On the first of these points, Beredo argues that American officials saw Spain’s colonial archives as a key spoil of the Spanish-American War because these records were an essential means of coming to know the islands and their inhabitants so as to rule it and them. However, as Beredo points out, the colonial archives also came to support the US’s moral argument that its imperialism was benevolent. As part of America’s self-appointed “white man’s burden” of modernizing the Philippines, archiving efforts were placed alongside other civil engineering and education projects as proof of benevolent efforts to create a modern, efficient colonial bureaucracy, efforts that concealed the violence of martial order.
Discourses of US benevolence in the Philippines were used less to convince Filipinos of America’s good intentions than to continue to garner support within the States for imperial expansion in the face of a growing anti-imperialist movement. Beredo shows how the colonial archives, as the source [End Page 159] for pro-imperial publications and reports, were key in the battle to win the hearts and minds of Americans. However, by tracing how anti-imperialists built their own archives to document imperial violence and failure, Beredo is clear that the colonial archives were not the only archives winning hearts and minds. Furthermore, Beredo shows that the anti-imperial archives broke down the hard and fast distinctions between “overseas” and “at home,” as failures in the United States – racial inequality, labour disputes, and the devastation of American Indian peoples – were used by anti-imperialists to raise serious doubts about America’s capacity to “civilize” anyone.
Lastly, Beredo argues that, in their role as land registry after 1903, the archives were instrumental in physically and psychically transforming the Philippines. As the site for sorting out Spanish cadastral records as well as registering new titles, the archives were key in determining who owned what and how. On the one hand, determining ownership was important to an imperial administration interested in selling land to foreign investors in order to generate revenue for the indebted colonial administration. On the other hand, registering land was also seen by colonial administrators as “lessons in political education” (p. 68) that would modernize both the island’s agricultural production and Filipino sensibilities to create hard-working, entrepreneurial colonial subjects capable of one day ruling their own nation.
Import is a revised version of Beredo’s doctoral dissertation, defended in the Department of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i in 2011. In the process of producing Import for...