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Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation explores both the admiration and dependency that influential Americans developed towards Spain and its imperial legacy as they attempted to construct the United States’ national and imperial identities throughout the long nineteenth century. The project also challenges beliefs associated with American exceptionalism, isolationism, and the Black Legend narrative. Developed in the metropole during the century prior to the United States’ emergence onto the world stage as an overseas imperial power in 1898, an informal group of elite Americans, made up of politicians, diplomats, Hispanist scholars, magazine editors, and exposition organizers, appropriated Spain’s imperial past as the foundation of the American historical narrative. Based on a conceptualization of Whig history, they celebrated the Spanish Empire for having brought civilization to the New World. These individuals also believed that the United States had become the vanguard of civilization; in turn, they accepted that it was their country’s responsibility to expand westward across the continent of North America.
Following the transfer of imperial power that occurred at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States found itself in possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands. Relatively unfamiliar with the empire’s new overseas colonial possessions, U.S. military officers and colonial administrators pragmatically adopted the narrative that had been created in the metropole. These individuals used Spain’s imperial legacy as the foundation of their own colonial projects, as they borrowed from several centuries of imperial knowledge and expertise throughout the periphery of their new empire.
Summary for Lay Audience
History has been dominated by empires. Today, we live in a world that is controlled by nation-states; however, this world only began to appear in a global context at the end of the Second World War. Despite attempts to place national unity at the forefront of political discussions, inclinations towards imperial thought still control the present world. At the root of these empires are people. Through the creation of “imagined communities,” individuals have fashioned empires in an attempt to define who they are and their positions in the world.1 People often conceptualize empires as unified entities that appear on maps as monolithic centers of power, unaffected by the varying cultures and ideologies that may exist within these imperial possessions. However, as John Darwin suggested, empires are by no means as simple as this image suggests and in reality, they are living and breathing things that are “contested, confused, and chance-ridden.”2 Building on this understanding of imperial history, this dissertation sheds light on how individuals living in both the U.S. and Spanish empires during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries attempted to shape the world that surrounded them through productive interactions with one another. These individuals were not only politicians and diplomats but also writers, travelers, soldiers, scientists, exposition organizers, mothers, and merchants. Exchanges reached their peak during the decades surrounding the Spanish-American War of 1898, which culminated with the U.S. occupation of Spain’s former colonial possessions in the Caribbean Basin (Puerto Rico and Cuba) and the Pacific (Guam and the Philippine Islands). However, both before and after these decades, individuals living throughout the U.S. and Spanish empires were connected to one another in a variety of different ways. These connections shaped their understanding of themselves, as well as the worlds that surrounded them.
French, Gregg M., "The Foundations of Empire Building: Spain’s Legacy and the American Imperial Identity, 1776-1921" (2017). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 4637.
Available for download on Sunday, October 31, 2021