Education About Asia: Online Archives

Dean Worcester’s Photographs and American Perceptions of the Philippines

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When the US acquired its overseas colonies in the aftermath of the Spanish American War, photography quickly established itself as part of the colonial project. Photographs in magazines and newspapers
brought the war home to American readers. Postcards and stereographs were popular consumer objects. Illustrated travel books, detailing the landscapes and peoples of the new colonies, were bestsellers. Photographs could provide visual evidence of the supposedly backward state of the colonies, which, in turn, could help to bolster arguments that the US was acting in the benevolent interests of the newly colonized peoples.

For a variety of reasons, photography played a more prominent role in affirming the US colonial agenda in the Philippines than it did in Cuba, Guam, or Puerto Rico. For one, the distance of the Philippines from the United States made it seem more exotic than either Cuba or Puerto Rico. The Philippines
also contained a sizable non-Christian population, including Muslims in the southern part of the archipelago and animist groups in many of the mountainous regions of the islands, whose customs and costumes seemed both odd and fascinating to many Americans. In addition, there was the active resistance of Filipinos to US colonialism, making that colony more problematic than the others and helping to pique the interest of many Americans about the Philippines.

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