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Colonial Crucible

Empire in the Making of the Modern American State

Edited by Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano

Publication Year: 2009

At the end of the nineteenth century the United States swiftly occupied a string of small islands dotting the Caribbean and Western Pacific, from Puerto Rico and Cuba to Hawaii and the Philippines. Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State reveals how this experiment in direct territorial rule subtly but profoundly shaped U.S. policy and practice—both abroad and, crucially, at home. Edited by Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano, the essays in this volume show how the challenge of ruling such far-flung territories strained the U.S. state to its limits, creating both the need and the opportunity for bold social experiments not yet possible within the United States itself. Plunging Washington’s rudimentary bureaucracy into the white heat of nationalist revolution and imperial rivalry, colonialism was a crucible of change in American statecraft. From an expansion of the federal government to the creation of agile public-private networks for more effective global governance, U.S. empire produced far-reaching innovations.
    Moving well beyond theory, this volume takes the next step, adding a fine-grained, empirical texture to the study of U.S. imperialism by analyzing its specific consequences. Across a broad range of institutions—policing and prisons, education, race relations, public health, law, the military, and environmental management—this formative experience left a lasting institutional imprint. With each essay distilling years, sometimes decades, of scholarship into a concise argument, Colonial Crucible reveals the roots of a legacy evident, most recently, in Washington’s misadventures in the Middle East.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xv

This volume is the culmination of a five-year collaborative effort by a community of scholars at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and some forty academics at other universities scattered across four continents. Through conversations, correspondence, and seminars at a variety of venues from Leiden to Sydney, we merged a diverse array of...

Part 1: Exploring Imperial Transitions [Includes Image Plate]

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On the Tropic of Cancer: Transitions and Transformations in the U.S. Imperial State

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pp. 3-33

Among the colonial empires that once ruled the globe, the United States was an elusive, even paradoxical power. All the usual imperial labels that attach so readily to Great Britain or France seem to require qualification when applied to America. By 1900, Britain’s empire...

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Reading Imperial Transitions: Spanish Contraction, British Expansion, and American Irruption

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pp. 34-62

The history of those political artifacts known as empires still has some very obscure areas. In the past, the study of empires was understood, in general and with notable exceptions, as the culmination of national histories. This limitation, which seems evident to us now, more than justifies the construction of alternative, intellectually more sophisticated, interpretative frameworks. However, this possibility could...

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From Old Empire to New: The Changing Dynamics and Tactics of American Empire

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pp. 63-80

Every nation fancies itself exceptional—unique and superior to others. Each nation creates its own traditions and narratives, infused with more than a dollop of fiction, to lend the weight of history to its sense of exceptionalism. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the United States, a New World, where the sins of moribund, decadent...

Part 2: Police, Prisons, and Law Enforcement [Includes Image Plate]

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pp. 83-86

As we assess, or reassess, the legacy of America’s early empire, the more coercive aspects of colonial rule may have had the most profound impact back home in the metropole. For a laissez-faire society with a weak central government, empire provided a unique opportunity...

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American Penal Forms and Colonial Spanish Custodial-Regulatory Practices in Fin de Si

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pp. 87-94

The character of the American imperial state and its impact on an Atlantic colonial periphery, which simultaneously impacted that same state throughout the period 1873–1914, cannot be fully understood outside this country’s shifting position within a world-system still hegemonized by Great Britain.1 One key to understanding this process is determining...

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Prohibiting Opium in the Philippines and the United States: The Creation of an Interventionist State

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pp. 95-105

Since the founding of the United States, American officials have faced decisions about how to govern newly acquired territories. Until the 1890s, these decisions were intended to be temporary, merely in force until the territories could be admitted to the United States as states. In 1898, however, American officials faced a new type of...

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Policiing the Imperial Periphery: Philippine Pacification and the Rise of the U.S. National Security State

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pp. 106-115

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Commodore George Dewey of the U.S. Navy arrayed his squadron of steel-hulled warships at the edge of Asia. Steaming across Manila Bay at first light on May 1, 1898, his squadron’s rapid-fire guns destroyed an antiquated Spanish...

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"The Prison That Makes Men Free" : The Iwahig Penal Colony and the Simulacra of the American State in the Philippines

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pp. 116-128

In 1904 the American colonial regime opened the Iwahig Penal Colony on a tract of swamp and forestland across the bay from Puerto Princesa, the provincial capital of remote Palawan Island, to relieve severe and dangerous overcrowding at Bilibid Prison, the central penitentiary in Manila. On this inhospitable island, so racked by endemic...

Part 3: Education [Image Plate Included]

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pp. 131-134

As most educators will readily attest, it is often difficult to tell whether lessons taught in school are, in fact, learned or whether the explicit or implicit aims of education have their desired effect. In an imperial context, questions about the “effects” of education become...

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Negotiating Colonialism: "Race," Class, and Education in Early-Twentieth-Century Puerto Rico

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pp. 135-144

Early-twentieth-century Puerto Rican history provides scholars of the Caribbean, Latin America, and American empire with a variety of examples to choose from when making the argument that local actors consistently challenged U.S. colonialism. The historical process of creating a colonial public school system in Puerto Rico, in...

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Enlightened Tolerance or Cultural Capitulation? Contesting Notions of American Identity

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pp. 145-150

After the cannons cooled Spain reluctantly relinquished Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. Until the late nineteenth century American expansion followed a fairly simple pattern. Indigenous peoples were rounded up, corralled into reservations, or simply massacred, allowing citizens back East to colonize the West. But the new...

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The Business of Education in the Colonial Philippines, 1909-30

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pp. 151-162

The photographs, or ones like them, are familiar to some of us. In one of them, about thirty young Filipino schoolboys, all neatly dressed, are seated in a classroom. Unfinished handwoven hats are resting on their laps. Some of the boys are looking at their handiwork, but...

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The Imperial Enterprise and Educational Policies in Colonial Puerto Rico

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pp. 163-174

Educational policies and practices in Puerto Rico, as a colony of both Spain (1493–1898) and the United States (since 1898), were formulated to serve the needs of the imperial enterprise. Education under Spain was one of limited schooling and a task charged to...

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Understanding the American Empire: Colonialism, Latin Americanism, and Professional Social Science, 1898-1920

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pp. 175-190

“I went to perform a lawyer’s duty,” Elihu Root said modestly of his service as secretary of war under President William McKinley. In the summer of 1899, when Root received a telephone call at his New York law office from Washington offering him this cabinet...

Part 4: Race and Imperial Identities [Includes Image Plate]

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pp. 193-198

Is the United States an empire? Has it ever been? Some say no; aside from a brief moment around the beginning of the twentieth century there was no annexation of land, taken to be the hallmark of empire. Naysayers point to the scrappy nature of American...

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Race, Empire, and Transnational History

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pp. 199-209

At the end of three months in command of U.S. forces in Lanao in 1901, David J. Gilmer, captain in the 49th U.S. Volunteer Infantry in the Philippines, issued a proclamation. The traditional historiography of race and American colonialism would lead us to expect that...

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Cenuses in the Transition to Modern Colonialism: Spain and the United States in Puerto Rico

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pp. 210-219

By most accounts, the United States’ occupation of Puerto Rico was a resounding success. Unlike the situation in Cuba, where expectations of independence after a long anticolonial struggle frustrated a complete U.S. takeover, or the Philippines, where a bloody resistance war ensued, the American takeover of Puerto Rico encountered few...

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Race and the Suffrage Controversy in Cuba, 1898-1901

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pp. 220-229

The newspaper La Lucha put it bluntly in 1899: “In Washington they believe that in order to devise a political constitution and an election law for Cuba, it is unavoidable to have a precise knowledge of the ethnic elements that form its....

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From Columbus to Ponce de Le

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pp. 230-237

The North American rulers of Puerto Rico stockpiled knowledge of the island’s history and people. The government transferred the Spanish colonial archives from San Juan to Washington. The Saint Louis World’s Fair (1904) displayed Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans...

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A Critical-Historical Genealogy of "Koko" (Blood), " 'Aina"(Land), Hawaiian Identity, and Western Law and Governance

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pp. 238-247

At first glance, the traveling of identity through time seems naturally consistent, effortless, and without consequence. Its movement and collisional encounters guised, identity just “is.” Stuart Hall interrupts this seamlessness by provoking us to look again, this time with a watchful eye and a tracing finger.1 That is, we must analyze with...

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Buying into Empire: American Consumption at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

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pp. 248-259

Military interventions and state power are only part of the story of American imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. Historians have long recognized that in addition to its formal political empire the United States had an informal...

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Confabulating American Colonial Knowledge of the Philippines: What the Social Life of Jose E. Marco's Forgeries and Ahmed Chalabi Can Tell Us about the Epistemology of Empire

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pp. 260-270

American colonial rule over the Philippines was one of the conditions of possibility that enabled the formulation of knowledge about and over the Philippines. The will to colonial power elicited a desire for knowledge and incited discourse about the Philippines....

Part 5: Imperial Medicine and Public Health [Include Image Plate]

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pp. 273-276

As historians of empire have long understood, the control of disease was essential to the colonizing effort. As nations expanded outward, their armies had to be protected, their trade routes kept free of contagion, and their contact with potentially unhealthy natives carefully managed...

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Pacific Crossings: Imperial Logics in United States' Public Health Programs

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pp. 277-287

For W. E. B. DuBois the most significant national event at the end of the nineteenth century was the annexation of the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which doubled the colored population under the United States’ protection. “This is for us and the nation,” he wrote in 1900, “the greatest event...

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A Fever for Empire: U.S. Disease Eradication in Cuba as Colonial Public Health

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pp. 288-296

In the years following the 1898 U.S. intervention in the Cuban war with Spain, the American forces occupying Cuba worked ceaselessly to control the dreaded yellow fever in Havana and the rest of the island. But, like the public health campaigns of other colonial...

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Mapping Regional and Imperial Geographies: Tropical Disease in the U.S. South

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pp. 297-308

In 1915 Ellsworth Huntington, a well-known geographer and advocate of environmental determinism at Yale University, published a book entitled Civilization and Climate that illustrated how tropical and subtropical climates inhibited the development of modern civilization around the globe. Like Latin America, Mexico, India, Egypt, and...

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The Conquest of Molecules: Wild Yams and American Scientists in Mexican Jungles / Gabriela Soto Laveaga

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pp. 309-316

In May 1951 Fortune magazine, under the intriguing headline “Mexican Hormones,” reported that “the biggest technological boom ever heard south of the border” was that a Mexican laboratory, Syntex, had derived synthetic cortisone from Mexican wild...

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Tropical Conquest and the Rise of the Environmental Management State: The Case of U.S. Sanitary Efforts in Panama

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pp. 317-326

In the decade or so after their completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, Americans were triumphant. They had successfully built one of the greatest engineering projects of the era, and they claimed that, through intelligent administration, they had brought order and modernity to a storied strip of post-colonial Spanish America. Moreover, and...

Part 6: Polity, Law, and Constitution [Includes Image Plate]

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pp. 329-331

The mainstream of American legal academe has traditionally concerned itself with the study of legal doctrine—the parsing of cases, statutes, and constitutions— and with making normative arguments based more on moral philosophy than social scientific evidence. Since the age of Weber and Durkheim there have been scholars who approached...

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Empire and the Transformation of Citizenship

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pp. 332-341

On January 4, 1904, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Gonzales v. Williams, a closely watched case that was widely expected to solve the puzzle of the citizenship status of the people of Puerto Rico and the Philippines— islands that had been...

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The Afterlife of Empire: Sovereignty and Revolution in the Philippines

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pp. 342-352

Like many other nation-states, the Philippines is marked by an imperial inheritance. The colonial regimes of Spain and the United States have left behind a certain idea of sovereignty rooted in Christian thinking. It is an idea of sovereignty that gives the ruler the freedom...

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The U.S. Constitution and Philippine Colonialism: An Enduring and Unfortunate Legacy

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pp. 353-364

Once the United States asserted sovereignty over the Philippine Islands in 1898, the legal framework for internal control of the colony needed to be established. Laws passed by the U.S. Congress, especially the Organic Act (Philippine Bill) of 1902, garnered most attention...

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Spanish Structure, American Theory: The Legal Foundations of a Tropical New Deal in the Philippine Islands, 1898-1935

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pp. 365-374

To construct the Philippine colonial government, American military and civil officials built on the remnants of the Spanish colonial administrative structure, staffed it with American personnel, operated it using American practices, employed it to pursue American-style modernization projects, animated it with American principles, and justified....

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The Hazards of Jeffersonianism: Challenges of State Building in the United States and Its Empire

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pp. 375-390

Jeffersonian political approaches and ideals have become, for many, indistinguishable from American political approaches and ideals. “The United States,” observed Clinton Rossiter during the cold war, “is a Jeffersonian country [with] . . . as powerful and uncritical an ideological commitment to Jefferson as the Communists have to...

Part 7: U.S. Military [Includes Image Plate]

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Introduction: The Military and the U.S. Imperial State

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pp. 393-396

We have not lacked for explanations: American leaders were cunning planners who scrutinized the naval theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan and coveted the China trade. Or they were accidental imperialists who brought roads, schoolbooks, and sewers. Colonial subjects were...

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"Mohammedan Religion Made It Necessary to Fire" : Massacres on the American Imperial Frontier from South Dakota to the Southern Philippines / Joshua Gedacht

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pp. 397-409

Early in March 1906, 790 American soldiers under the command of onetime Rough Rider Major General Leonard Wood converged on Bud Dajo, an extinct volcano at the southern, predominantly Muslim periphery of the Philippine Islands. Hoping to dislodge...

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The U.S. Army as an Occupying Force in Muslim Mindanao, 1899-1913

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pp. 410-420

In 1900 General William A. Kobbe reported that his command, the Department of Mindanao and Jolo, exhibited an extraordinary “diversity of race, religion and habitat” involving pagans, Muslims, and Christian Filipinos that made it “necessary to adopt a military...

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Minutemen for the World: Empire, Citizenship, and the National Guard, 1903-1924

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pp. 421-430

On a green field in Concord, Massachusetts, stands a statue known as the Minute Man. Sculpted in 1874, Daniel Chester French’s monument to America’s revolutionary soldiers also serves as an emblem of the United States National Guard. Yet, for all the nostalgia...

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From Winship to Leahy: Crisis, War, and Transition in Puerto Rico

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pp. 431-440

In The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991, Eric Hobsbawm writes, “The large British Caribbean colonies were quietly decolonized in the 1960s, the small islands at intervals between then and 1981, the Indian and Pacific islands in the late 1960s and....

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French and American Imperial Accommodation in the Caribbean during World War II: The Experience of Guyane and the Subaltern Roles of Puerto Ricans / Humberto Garc

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pp. 441-451

In 1943, in the midst of World War II, an imperial United States reached the zenith of its military power in the Caribbean Sea with bases, landing strips, or garrisoned troops in almost all the islands and territories bordering that body of water. The only ones without a...

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pp. 452-459

In December 1940, Lino Rodríguez Grenot decided to try his luck in Guantánamo.1 A former boxer known as “Kid Chicle,” Rodríguez was twentyseven years old, black, and unemployed. He had a checkered work history and had attempted to earn a living as...

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The Impact of the Philippine Wars (1898-1913) on the U.S. Army

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pp. 460-472

The United States Army devotes considerable attention to the study of history as a guide for current and future policy. It employs hundreds of historians to study the past and sends some of its brightest officers to top universities for advanced degrees. Its fills its doctrinal...

Part 8: Environmental Management [Includes Image Plate]

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Introduction: Environmental and Economic Management

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pp. 475-478

In his panoramic study of the success of European imperialism, David Abernethy suggested that the key to the durability of European imperial rule lay in what he called the “Triple...

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Conservation and Colonialism: Gifford Pinchot and the Birth of Tropical Forestry in the Philippines

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pp. 479-488

The question of the wilderness and national forest reserves that proved so divisive in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century U.S. politics had its counterpart in America’s erstwhile colony across the Pacific. In the Philippines, however, the colonial context somewhat...

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Manila's Imperial Makeover: Security, Health, and Symbolism

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pp. 489-498

At the high tide of empire starting in the late nineteenth century, the grand, awe-inspiring colonial capital became central to the imperial enterprise as the site of its expatriate population, a symbol of its military power, an institutional center, and a locus of major port...

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"The World Was My Garden" : Tropical Botany and Cosmopolitanism in American Science, 1898-1935

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pp. 499-507

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the United States created a large domestic agricultural research infrastructure. Through the Morrill Land-Grant Act (1862), and the Hatch Act (1887), the federal government created and funded a national network of state agricultural colleges and experiment stations. In 1888, the U.S. Department...

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Scientific Superman: Father Jos

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pp. 508-520

In November 1898, in Manila Bay onboard the bridge of the flagship of the American fleet, the Olympia, a carefully arranged meeting between Admiral Dewey and the Jesuit meteorologist Father Jos

Part 9: The Elusive Character of American Global Power [Includes Image Plate]

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The Limits of American Empire: Democracy and Militarism in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

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pp. 523-531

Debates about empire have a definite place in American history, but where? What do we gain—conceptually and empirically—by calling the United States an empire? The contributors to this groundbreaking collection of essays interrogate the “capillaries”—and sometimes arms and legs—of American ex - pansion in the Caribbean and the...

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Crucibles, Capillaries, and Pentimenti: Reflections on Imperial Transformations

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pp. 532-540

The nature of “empire,” particularly as embodied in the modern United States, has been a prominent topic of public discussion in recent years. The September 11 terrorist attacks, followed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have stimulated a wave of anxious....

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Empire in American History

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pp. 541-556

The memory of war is deeply etched on American public consciousness through memorials of national significance. Witness the Vietnam Memorial, then the Marine Corps’ Iwo Jima Monument, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Gettysburg. Yet the interested observer must look much harder for scattered and unobtrusive memorials of the....


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pp. 557-644


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pp. 645-648


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pp. 649-685

E-ISBN-13: 9780299231033
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299231040

Page Count: 685
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1901-1909.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1897-1901.
  • United States -- Territorial expansion.
  • Imperialism -- United States.
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