The United States is an empire: an empire that expands beyond the North American continent into many islands across the globe. From Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Atlantic to American Samoa and Guam in the Pacific, the US remains an imperial power with unincorporated island territories, a euphemism for replacing the anachronistic term "colonies." The residents of these territories have truncated political rights; they do not have voting representation in U.S. Congress, and they cannot vote in U.S. Presidential elections. Though U.S. territories are usually footnotes in the grand narrative of U.S. history, this course argues that they are integral to understanding the United States as a whole.
We will examine the history of how the U.S. acquired and governed the territories from the perspective of the islands themselves, emphasizing the local effects of U.S. colonial policies. We will analyze how U.S. foreign policy split indigenous peoples into separate political entities, how economic interests changed native political systems, how U.S. militarism affected the ecology of whole islands and the culture of territorial residents, and how public health policies racialized island peoples. We will also explore how self-determination and decolonization movements were stymied by the U.S. government, and how a whole host of other colonial policies and actions has affected and continues to affect the territories.
The course will cover islands currently under U.S. control, including American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. It will also examine former territories, Trust Territories of the Pacific, and occupied islands including the Philippines, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, among others. With the changing nature of U.S. imperialism, we will also consider the United States expansive military base presence throughout the globe. The history of these islands can tell us much about limits of U.S. citizenship, about the growth of U.S. commerce and militarism globally, about patterns of migration and immigration, and about the changing discourse of race and indigeneity.