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George Percival Scriven: An American in Bohol, The Philippines, 1899-1901

Digital Scriptorium, Duke University

Reviewed by:
Kirsten McKenzie
University of Sydney
September 2003

This site provides a transcription of the diary kept by George Percival Scriven in the Philippines. Scriven was part of the United States occupying force of Bohol Island between 1899 and 1901 in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War.

In addition to the diary, approximately 17,000 words, the site provides 22 photographs that illustrate the text. These have been selected from four collections related to the Philippines that are roughly contemporaneous with Scriven’s account. Three visual images of Scriven’s diaries also appear on the site.

The site provides an eyewitness account of the first months of the American occupation of the Philippines. As the site explains, Scriven’s journal was written partly as a personal memoir and partly as research for a planned publication. The transcription of the diary is divided into nine sections and is easy to navigate, although the logic of the text’s presentation can be hard to follow. The diary has a disjointed quality as it jumps between an account of Scriven’s own experiences and general descriptions of Bohol Island. It can be read sequentially, but because of the disrupted narrative this is not essential. The original spelling, crossed-out words, and marginal notes have been preserved and are clearly explained at the beginning of the transcription.

The supplementary material on the site is not extensive, particularly if users are not familiar with the historical context. It includes a 300-word biography of Scriven and a 6,000-word account by researcher Norman Cameron on the U.S. Military Occupation of Bohol. There also is a suggested list of further reading. This is mostly useful as a collection of primary sources reflecting other attitudes towards the occupation that might be compared with Scriven’s.

In terms of scholarly analysis, teachers of world history would be better served by consulting some of the more recent historiography that situates American involvement in the Philippines within transnational and imperial frameworks. In this regard, the article “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880-1910”1 is helpful both in the transnational links it draws and in its survey of the historiography.

The diary could be used by teachers in a variety of ways. Its representation of the inhabitants of Bohol and of the island itself illuminate turn-of-the-century thinking on race and landscape. “Indeed,” writes Scriven on May 6, 1900, “I think if I were ever tempted to play Robinson Crusoe, Bohol would be my island.” Scriven vacillates between an ethnographic concern to record the manners and customs of the islanders, often presented in a positive vein, and a need to justify the occupation. His somewhat uneasy sense of the United States as conqueror can provide a useful starting point for students to debate the question of imperial expansion in American identity and concepts of nation in this period. One example that runs through the text is a reported instance of the encounter between a local leader and a member of the occupying forces: “Next day Major Hale met the headmen and again recurred to their expression of fear that they would become slaves, and said that after fighting for years to free slaves the United States was the last country of the world to enslave others.”

The series of photographs can be read alongside the text and contrasted with it. The subjects, and occasional captions, point out disjunctures between Scriven’s text and the subjects of the photographs, particularly with regard to the character of resistance against the American occupation. Examining the contrast between written and visual images of the conflict and between Scriven’s account and the photographic collections would be an excellent exercise for students addressing issues of representations of war and imperial occupation.

1 Paul A. Kramer, “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880-1910” in The Journal of American History 88.4 (March 2002): 1315-1353.

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