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Empire's Proxy

American Literature and U.S. Imperialism in the Philippines

Meg Wesling

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

For the completion of this book, as well as for the myriad pleasures experienced along the way, I owe thanks to so many friends, colleagues, and kindred spirits. Though this project is not the direct outgrowth of my dissertation work, its contours were clearly shaped by the skillful help of my committee members at Cornell University. Sunn Shelley ...

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Introduction: Educated Subjects: Literary Production, Colonial Expansion, and the Pedagogical Public Sphere

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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 ...

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1. The Alchemy of English: Colonial State-Building and the Imperial Origins of American Literary Study

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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 ...

2. Empire’s Proxy: Literary Study as Benevolent Discipline

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pp. 69-103

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3. Agents of Assimilation: Female Authority, Male Domesticity, and the Familial Dramas of Colonial Tutelage

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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 the Thomas. 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 ...

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4. The Performance of Patriotism: Ironic Affiliations and Literary Disruptions in Carlos Bulosan’s America

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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 ...

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Conclusion: “An Empire of Letters”: Literary Tradition, National Sovereignty, and Neocolonialism

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pp. 163-176

In the December 1900 issue of North 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 ...


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pp. 177-212


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pp. 213-228


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pp. 229-235

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814795415
E-ISBN-10: 0814795412
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814794760
Print-ISBN-10: 0814794769

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 727951027
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Empire's Proxy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • United States -- Relations -- Philippines.
  • Philippines -- Relations -- United States.
  • Americans -- Philippines.
  • American literature -- Filipino American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Modern ‡x History and criticism.
  • Philippine literature (English).
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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