restricted access Epilogue: The Hispanicist Forebears of 1898
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Epilogue The Hispanicist Forebears of 1898 This book primarily examines Hispanicism’s manifestations in the early national and antebellum periods. Would it have been more fitting to have wrestled more closely with 1898 and the Spanish-­ Ameri­ can War? In the late nineteenth century, US imperialists desiring control of Hispanophone nations articulated a powerful guiding ideology, challenging isolationist and humanitarian opposition by claiming that it was the United States’ responsibility to improve the lot of those illiberal nations’ ­ peoples. Such ­ peoples, the argument went, needed Anglo-­ Saxon guidance to develop the liberal-­ democratic institutions and productive economies that had flourished in the United States. Although not new, these arguments became more effective in 1898. For that reason, 1898 presents a likely place to study them. Up until then the question of empire had always been hotly debated in the United States, with moderate positions of­ten winning. This ceased to be true at the nineteenth century’s end. His­ tori­ cal contingencies, such as the media ’s misrepresentation of the sinking of the USS Maine, partly account for this change in pub­lic opinion. Going much further, though, are increasingly confident, aggressive, and racial attitudes regarding the nation’s global mission . These changes had profound material consequences. The United States successfully undertook its most comprehensive imperial projects in the Hispanophone world, routing Spain in the war; acquiring Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines; and setting up a puppet administration in Cuba. This turn of events presaged an early twentieth century marked by many direct military interventions in Latin America. The era was punctuated by US acquisition of the Panama Canal project via gunboat diplomacy during the Theodore Roosevelt administration. For many historians and literary critics, 1898 is thus an exceptional moment . The general gist of such arguments is that 1898 and the successful cultural construction of an effective imperial ideology represent something unprecedented in US history.1 In recent years, though, literary scholars have 166 / Epilogue questioned this claim. Among them, John Carlos Rowe, Amy Kaplan, and Shelley Streeby have shown, in vari­ ous ways, how imperialism and Hispanophobic feeling have deep roots in US history and culture, roots that predate and transcend 1898 (Kaplan 1993a, 231–32; Kaplan 2002, 13, 17, 94, 99, 120, 389; Rowe 2000, 14–15, 54). These are compelling arguments. It is no doubt crucial to recognize 1898’s particularity; for instance, one must acknowledge analytic distinctions between types of imperialism and attend to how literary culture reflects and informs those distinctions. However, such distinctions may also obscure the significant continuities between the expansionist views of vari­ ous periods. Charting such continuities, Streeby argues that presenting 1898 as exceptional risks making a false distinction between 1898 as authentically imperial because it marked the United States’ first full-­ fledged foray into overseas expansion, and 1848 as an inauthentic-­ because-­ continental imperial moment (Streeby 2002). Such arguments, firstly, belie the presence of earlier overseas expansionism, as the United States, although less stridently than in 1898, in the years surrounding 1848 sought territory in Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere. Secondly, distinctions between 1848 and 1898 risk naturalizing the post-­ 1848 borders of the nation, thus capitulating to the notion that those borders were a national destiny, a notion that promoted the fiction that the United States was not an imperial nation by presenting formerly Mexican lands as naturally part of the United States’ domestic space as opposed to acknowledging that those lands were only gained by imperial warfare. Thus, Streeby asks us to recognize the significance of the Ameri­ can 1848 in US imperial history (Streeby 2002, 9–10). One could go back further, too. As soon as the Revolution ended, the United States began expanding, yet early national US imperialism is a neglected field of study due to the long history of viewing 1898 as special. This tendency is ideological. It makes imperialism difficult to recognize and thus contributes to the maintenance of imperial agendas by neglecting to acknowledge their existence as anything more than a temporary aberration in US history. Moreover, even granting that it is of­ten useful to emphasize distinctions over continuities, it is necessary to recognize the significant role culture and text have played in laying the rhe­ tori­ cal and emotional groundwork of imperial agendas. Even if 1898 is exceptional, it is impossible to conceive its emergence without placing it in a cultural history that explains how arguments for imperialism became culturally viable. In this coda, I argue that when...


Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • American literature -- Spanish influences.
  • American literature -- Latin American influences.
  • Latin America -- In literature.
  • Spain -- In literature.
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