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Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 1898-1935

Jim Zwick
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Reviewed by:
Matthew Karush
George Mason University
October 2003

This website makes available an astonishingly rich collection of material on the anti-imperialist movements of the early 20th century. The site is edited by Jim Zwick, an American Studies scholar who has published extensively on the U.S. war in the Philippines, the anti-imperialist writings of Mark Twain, and the Anti-Imperialist League, the most important of the organizations formed to combat America’s aggressive foreign policy at the turn of the century. With thousands of pages of poetry, novels, stories, political cartoons, speeches, pamphlets, essays, and platforms alongside useful historical analyses by Zwick and others, the site is an extremely valuable resource for teachers.

The sheer size of the collection is daunting, and although the organizing principles are fairly transparent, one can easily get lost. “Literature” includes at least seven full-length novels, as well as countless poems and short stories, grouped either by author or by topic. “Essays” reproduces anti-imperialist essays, speeches, and pamphlets, including more than 50 works from the years 1898 and 1899 alone.

Clicking on “Platforms” takes one to a chronological listing of more than 40 statements of principle from various organizations in the anti-imperialist movement. The most confusing section, but also perhaps the most useful, is labeled “History.” Here, one finds various secondary sources on anti-imperialism, including several essays by Zwick. But alongside these pieces are some 16 collections of primary sources grouped not by genre and chronology, but by content. One particularly fascinating section presents a treasure trove of documents related to the African American experience in the anti-imperialist movement. Another collects articles, cartoons, and other sources related to the American pursuit of a canal through either Nicaragua or Panama. A third brings together the anti-imperialist writings of William Jennings Bryan. All of these collections are contextualized with short, useful introductory essays by Zwick.

This site contains numerous advertisements (especially for books on related topics for sale at Amazon), but these are for the most part kept to the right and left margins. Once one gets accustomed to focusing on the content in the middle of the page, the advertisements are not too distracting. The site design is straightforward and unadorned. The user familiar with the basic contents of the sections described above should be able to navigate the site easily.

A search engine prominently displayed on every page uses Google and represents an effective tool for finding related documents. By searching for such terms as “Philippines” or “Mark Twain” or “Communist Party,” one can uncover significant collections of primary sources on particular topics.

The site provides many excellent opportunities for student projects. For example, in a subsection on the “Literature” page, Zwick has collected 50 anti-imperialist responses to “The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 poem advocating imperialism and racial hierarchy. Together, these poems, editorials, essays, and cartoons shatter any simple notion of an American consensus behind expansionist policies. Teachers might ask students to consider the different ways in which various types of authors challenged Kipling’s perspective; poems such as “The Poor Man’s Burden” or “The Black Man’s Burden” enable students to consider how African Americans and other groups may have responded to U.S. imperialism abroad.

In general, the site is best used for helping students gain insight into the cultural history of U.S. foreign policy in the early 20th century. It is less useful for examining foreign perspectives. One can, for example, learn a great deal about American responses to the war in the Philippines, but much less about the Philippine experience itself. Additionally, teachers should be aware that the collection (like all collections) bears the intellectual stamp of the collector. In this context, the brief essay on the front page of the site is useful for it situates Zwick’s interest in anti-imperialist history in the context of contemporary debates about US foreign policy.

Finally, teachers should be careful to avoid giving their students the impression that anti-imperialism represented the dominant ideology of the period. The more mainstream political cartoons collected in Latin America in Caricature1 could provide students an understanding of how American attitudes of racial and cultural superiority often translated into support for U.S. imperialism.

1 John J. Johnson, Latin America in Caricature (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993).

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