American Empire

American Empire


An American military officer poses for a photograph with two Filipino women, circa 1908. Courtesy of University of Wisconsin Digital Collections via Recollection Wisconsin.

In This Exhibition

The United States is no stranger to strange lands. From its founding as a British colony to its settlement of the West, America is rooted in a tradition of exploration, conquest, and opportunism. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marked a new era in American expansion. A growing US economy was hungry for more resources and new markets. Politicians pressured the government to protect and promote American interests worldwide. An expanding population was redefining American society. Each of these factors contributed to the age of American imperialisman era of unprecedented territorial and political growth and cultural development. Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US emerged as a formidable world power with territories across the Pacific and Caribbean. Of course, these new borders came with growing pains. As US imperialists insisted that the country had a responsibility to civilize "inferior" peoples, opponents lobbied on behalf of the colonies, insisting that imperialism contradicted the nation's founding principles of sovereignty, equality, and democracy.

This exhibition explores the origins, development, and eventual fall of the American empire. An empire is more than a story of geographic borders and international politics; it is also rooted in forces of national pride, popular culture, and indigenous communities. Moving through the colonial settlements of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, these stories investigate the lives and legacies of citizens and subjectsthose who established and defined the American presence abroad; those who fought to keep the American flag off their soil; those who crafted domestic visions of exotic lands; and those who negotiated life in the empire. This exhibition maps the diverse and rocky terrain of the American empire to show how it informs contemporary conversations on heritage, citizenship, racism, and globalization.

Credit: This exhibition was curated by Andrea Ledesma, MA in Public Humanities at Brown University, with materials contributed by California Digital Library, David Rumsey, Digital Commonwealth, Digital Library of Georgia, Digital Library of Tennessee, Empire State Digital Network, HathiTrust, Illinois Digital Heritage Hub, Mountain West Digital Library, National Archives and Records Administration, The New York Public Library, PA Digital, The Portal to Texas History, Recollection Wisconsin, Smithsonian Institution, South Carolina Digital Library, University of Southern California Libraries, and University of Washington.