In the midst of ongoing insurrection, United States military officials desperately sought out new forms of knowledge about the islands on which they were fighting during the Philippine-American War. In October of 1902, well before the fighting was over or the proverbial dust had settled, the U.S. declared an official end to the war and the War Department produced it’s first survey map of the archipelago. This map borrowed heavily from Spanish imperial categories, shading some areas orange to represent control by “civil provincial government” and others green to show control by “Moro and other non-Christian tribes.” At the same time, the Census Bureau gathered and classified information about the people it saw as novel subjects of American rule. Together, these two technologies of governance produced a powerful and lasting set of ideas about religion, race, and regional difference that were mapped onto explanations for criminality over the first twenty years of American occupation.
The starting point of this project was my consideration of President Obama’s February 12, 2013 State of the Union address in which he said: “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country—the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead…” The remainder of the quote borrows from Martin Luther King, Jr.—that you can get ahead “no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or who you love.” This is a wonderful aspiration. What concerns me most, however, is the general idea that the basic bargain of the United States is getting ahead through hard work and meeting responsibilities. The problem is that the rhetoric of this basic bargain elides history; it forgets that in the nineteenth century there were, for example, enslaved people working hard at, among other things, picking cotton, a commodity that was the driving force of the nineteenth century global economy. Where does that hard work fit into this basic bargain?