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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Imperial correspondence: Soldiers, writing, and the imperial quotidian during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars
by Berkey, James Heberton, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2010, 295; 3439551
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation argues that soldiers’ correspondence played a crucial role in the cultural mediation of empire at the turn of the century. At the very moment when romantic heroism was wedded to the project of national expansion, letter-writing soldiers found their sense of imperial identity not on the battlefield, but in the crowded writing tents and domestic spaces of the imperial campground. “Imperial Correspondence” thus makes visible the epistolary underside of the dominant romantic image: an alternative space of everyday habit, ordinary routine, and mundane desire in an imperial occupation force. I develop the concept of the “imperial quotidian” to show how soldiers used their everyday experiences to normalize empire as a way of life for themselves and the nation. “Imperial correspondence” insists on the double meaning of correspondence, encompassing both privately-circulating texts (letters, diaries, and journals) and publically-circulating documents (commemorative biographies, special war correspondence, reprinted soldiers’ letters, and soldier newspapers); such a conception reveals how soldiers’ ostensibly private experience was also necessarily public and cultural. Soldiers’ correspondence thus also represents an alternative and residual cultural formation within the period's dominant media environment, a methodological shift that complicates our critical assumptions about the mass- and visually-mediated nature of empire at this historical moment. My treatment of soldiers’ letters as correspondence also provides my dissertation with its structure. The first part examines private letters by individual soldiers like George Telfer, Harry Crawford, Henry Thompson, John Clifford Brown, and others as documents of the imperial self, arguing that they reveal hitherto unrecognized domestic spaces of empire that challenge our critical accounts of empire as a national resurrection of romantic masculine agency. The second part considers the public dissemination of soldiers’ writings in newspapers, journals, and pamphlets both at home and in the imperial outpost, demonstrating how soldiers’ letters became a site of ideological contest over the meaning of empire in the domestic press. The second part also recovers a little-known trove of soldier newspapers published in Cuba and the Philippines in order to show how soldiers created an imagined community of empire far different from that fashioned by the national press.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Elmer, Jonathan
Commitee: Bose, Purnima, Cruz, Denise, Hutchinson, George
School: Indiana University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 72/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American history, American literature, Military history
Keywords: Imperialism, Letters, Mediation, Newspapers, Philippine-American War, Spanish-American War, U.S. imperialism, United States
Publication Number: 3439551
ISBN: 978-1-124-44761-2
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