BUILDING AN EMPIRE, DEFINING A NATION: THE RHETORIC OF U.S. EXPANSION AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Open Access
Author:
Kimokeo-Goes, Una Haunani
Graduate Program:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
August 18, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Dr J Michael Hogan, Dissertation Advisor
  • James Hogan, Committee Chair
  • Thomas Walter Benson, Committee Member
  • Stephen Howard Browne, Committee Member
  • Cheryl Jean Glenn, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • U.S. Foreign Policy
  • U.S. Expansion
  • Samoa
  • Hawaii’s Annexation
  • Progressive Era
  • Imperialism
  • Rhetoric
  • American Identity
Abstract:
At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States looked fundamentally different than it had just ten years before. Its borders had expanded by tens of thousands of miles, pulling in islands in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and even some flanking Asia. Millions of people were folded into these new borders, although few of those people understood themselves to be American. Territorial expansion during the Age of Imperialism was important to determining the nation’s very sense of self. While disputes over the status of these territories continue to this day, historically they were the products of a great debate over the nation’s character, identity, and role in the world. My project focuses on the rise of U.S. nationalism during the Age of Imperialism and the public discourse that shaped the nation’s understanding of territorial expansion by concentrating on the country’s ventures in the Pacific. Building an Empire, Defining a Nation explores how, on the eve of the so-called Progressive Era, imperialism was defended and rationalized within a rhetoric of progressive change, invoking themes of moral uplift, self-determination, and progress. My project unpacks a term that today seems an oxymoron: “progressive imperialism.” By examining the racial and gendered implications of the rhetoric of U.S. foreign policy from 1889-1900, I show how advocates of expansion used the values of progressivism to rationalize imperialism and shed new light on nationalistic themes that still shape U.S. foreign policy and the country’s sense of self.