Hawkins, Michael C. Semi-Civilized: The Moro Village at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

AuthorRodell, Paul A.

Hawkins, Michael C. Semi-Civilized: The Moro Village at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2020.

The 1904 St. Louis Exposition is notorious in Philippine studies for its display of Filipinos as uncultivated savages that required "benevolent" American imperialism to save them from their depravity. As a result, the exposition is frequently held up as an unmitigated example of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Saxon racist justification for the American colonial venture. That assessment may be harsh, but it is not far wrong. Michael C. Hawkins, however, offers a more nuanced view of the exposition using the example of the Moro Village. Unlike the other indigenous groups on display, the Anglo-Saxon colonizers had something of a romantic view of the Muslim warriors of the southern Philippines akin to how Americans saw themselves as descendants of the rugged men and women who settled the great American West. Though flawed and fanciful, this perception moved the fair's organizers and promoters to treat the Moros differently from the other tribal folks they showcased. The Moros were seen as people who had roots in savagery but were nonetheless developed and capable. The Moros thereby occupied an essential middle space in human development further justifying the American role and the possibility of good old nineteenth-century notions of "progress"--or so it seemed to exposition organizers.

So, while the exposition was racist in a broad-brush stroke, the Moros provided a degree of ambiguity that seems to have caused some discomfort to those who wanted to dismiss all the tribal people as savages. Philippine nationalists might claim that this bit of nuance matters little, but Hawkins presents a convincing case that undercuts a strict binary between the savage and the civilized. Whenever he discusses the exposition's creators and the American context, he is right on the money and brings the latest theoretical analysis and academic works to bear in a convincing analysis. This discussion is especially good when focused on issues of masculinity, the American fear of the effect that a banal and mechanized future may have in store for civilized man and child development. Hawkins also presents an extended discussion of the foibles of nineteenth-century physical anthropology and social Darwinian thought. While not new, it is critical to bring this into the discussion, and the author did a good job with it. His analysis is...

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