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  • Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History ed. by Ann Laura Stoler
  • Christine Skwiot
Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History. Edited by Ann Laura Stoler. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

This eagerly awaited collection has its origins in the 2001 Journal of American History roundtable on Ann Laura Stoler’s article, “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post)-Colonial Studies” (reprinted in this volume). The back cover of Haunted by Empire promises a collection that examines “the critical role of the ‘domains of the intimate’ in the consolidation of colonial power.” However, Nancy Cott observes, some “participants sidled away from a direct focus on ‘empire’ itself—or colonial relations as such” (469). Although the result is a “peculiar and awkward sort” of volume, it is also the case that “[b]lurred genres invite better questions,” as Stoler maintains (9). This collection articulates and anticipates new questions for the interdisciplinary study of U.S. empire, a field that Susan Gillman argues has reached its conceptual limits as currently conceived. Read with and through Stoler’s introduction and Linda Gordon’s, Catherine Hall’s, and Cott’s refractions, in many exciting ways Haunted answers Gilman’s call for “a robust, systematic comparativism.”1

Stoler makes clear that the volume seeks to put U.S. history and postcolonial studies into productive and provocative dialogue. It interrogates “the politics of comparison” that have shaped what and why scholars have and have not compared and analyzes the ways in which intimate matters, affective arrangements, and structures of sentiment came to constitute the fluid “marrow” of colonial relations of power and modes of governance. While the question of “what is colonial and imperial in the history of the United States” is the touchstone of this volume, it also will aid rethinking of “the tacit assumptions about European empire elsewhere” (17). Because space limitations do not permit even cursory remarks on all the volume’s richly suggestive essays, I will focus on issues of empire raised in its three main sections.

The essays comprising “Convergence and Comparison” share with Warwick Anderson’s analysis of race and biological citizenship in the U.S. colonial Philippines and Australia the goal of elucidating “the making of intimacy with the colonizing state and the making of intimacy for the colonizing state” (98). Anderson examines how the U.S. and Australia professed their desire to civilize and whiten Filipino lepers and Aboriginal half-castes into homogenous and hygienic “social citizens;” instead, these colonial states made them into racial inferiors, marginalized citizens, and polluted peoples. Damon Salesa explores how British, German, and U.S. imperialists struggled to assert jurisdiction in Samoa by staking their nation’s title, not over land, but the bodies of the half-castes whom they claimed as citizens or subjects. While “strategic intimacy” is Salesa’s term, it could apply to Shannon Lee Dawdy’s analysis of Antoinette Simon Le Page du Pratz’s and Thomas Jefferson’s writings on slavery. She argues that the conjoined paternally intimate and rational segregationist strategies of racial rule oft associated with the antebellum U.S. emerged in the eighteenth century at the intersection of trans-Atlantic Enlightenment thinking and trans-American plantation practices. Anderson and Salesa make important contributions to the burgeoning literature on comparative colonialisms in the Pacific. Dawdy does likewise with the emergent literature that treats the U.S. South as part of a New World plantation complex, as in the second section, does Lisa Lowe’s “The Intimacies of Four Continents.” She analyzes how the racialized division of slave and indentured labor forged in the New World produced the bourgeois intimacy “that was the sociospatial medium for both metropolitan and colonial hegemony” (195). In a related yet dissonant vein, Laura Wexler’s explores how Kate Chopin might have interpreted imperial spectacles at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair through the lens of the intimate affections and violences she experienced in the slave-holding South.

Essays in “Proximities of Power” explore ‘what’s colonial about the postcolonial U.S.,’ to borrow from Michael Warner’s famous question.2 Kathleen Brown offers an astute...

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