Cornell University Press

Oliver Charbonneau on American Power in the Islamic Philippines

Return to Home

We asked author Oliver Charbonneau three questions about his new book, Civilizational Imperatives, and the little-known history of the United States’ colonization of the Philippines’ Muslim South in the early twentieth century.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

I enjoyed exploring the documents on the relationship between the Ottoman official Wajih al-Kilani and the US colonial administrator John Park Finley. The book details it at length, but, in shortened form, the story involves an American military officer who fostered connections in Constantinople in order to reform Islamic practices in the Southern Philippines. The encounter highlights the global constitution of the US empire in the early twentieth century and suggests the value of looking beyond a colony/metropole binary. 

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I wish I had been more aware of the many challenges presented by the colonial constitution of the archives, particularly in terms of spaces (Mindanao/Sulu) that have been doubly marginalized in overlapping colonial and national discourses. Writing the book was a crash course in reading through, around, and against monolithic archival narratives and continuously broadening the sources I drew from to improve representation. It was challenging throughout and taught me a lot that I plan to build on in future projects.

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study?

I hope my work brings more recognition to the United States as an “empire among empires” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both in terms of its settler-colonial and overseas manifestations. In particular, I’d like to see the historiography of the US empire more deeply linked to developments in the European/Japanese/Ottoman empires during the period. Beyond this, I hope the book creates openings for new scholarship on colonialism in the Southern Philippines and, more broadly, generates discussions about the ways that regions are historiographically peripheralized.

*Featured photo: EDSA, Mandaluyong, Philippines. Credit: Eugenio Pastoral.

Cover image of Civilizational Imperatives.
Read more about this book.

Oliver Charbonneau is Lecturer in American History at the University of Glasgow. Follow him on Twitter @olaferr.

Book Finder