Rice, Mark. Dean Worcester's Fantasy Islands: Photography, Film, and the Colonial Philippines

By Rodell, Paul A. | Journal of Global South Studies, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Rice, Mark. Dean Worcester's Fantasy Islands: Photography, Film, and the Colonial Philippines


Rodell, Paul A., Journal of Global South Studies


Rice, Mark. Dean Worcester's Fantasy Islands: Photography, Film, and the Colonial Philippines. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2014.

In this superb book, Mark Rice applies his specialization in the history of photography in twentieth century America to a detailed examination and analysis of Dean C. Worcester's use of photography in early American colonial Philippines. Rice is not the first to examine Worcester's role in America's Asian experiment in tum-of-the-century imperialism. In the late 1990s, the University of Michigan published a substantial biography of Worcester by Rodney Sullivan that also touched on many of the issues that Rice discusses. Many other authors, such as Paul Kramer, have used this controversial exponent of American expansionism in their studies of American racism and imperialism. Karl Hutterer studied Worcester and the development of anthropological research in the Philippines. Of the previous works that focused on Worcester, Benito Vergara's book Displaying Filipinos is, perhaps, the closest to the present volume. In his study, Vergara explored how Filipinos were portrayed in early colonial photography and the political, cultural and racially charged representations that emerged. In Vergara's study, Worcester loomed large.

If these, and other scholars, have looked at Worcester, is there anything that makes Rice's study unique? The answer is an emphatic yes! Although Rice references these studies in his own work and also uses the extensive Worcester papers housed at the University of Michigan plus other major archival holdings, his study goes deeper into Worcester's photographic activity making a detailed assessment of his entire body of work of over 20,000 photographs, which is stunning even by present standards. Rice shows conclusively how this important American colonial official consciously used his extensive photographic collection that he assembled while he was the colonial regime's Secretary of the Interior as a political propaganda weapon. Rice further contextualizes his analysis by discussing other studies that have examined similar uses of photography by other colonizers in different parts of the world and in the development of the field of anthropology. In this study, Rice builds on the works of others, but also takes our present knowledge to new analytic levels.

Worcester's connection with the Philippines began in the late nineteenth century when he first visited as a University of Michigan undergraduate student in zoology. By the time of the Spanish-American War, his Philippine expertise and the articles he wrote for prominent publications plus his book, The Philippine Islands and Their People, caught the attention of a McKinley administration desperate for people familiar with America's new colonial possession. …

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