Dean Worcester's Fantasy Islands

Photography, Film, and the Colonial Philippines
Mark Rice


Dean Worcester’s Fantasy Islands brings to life one of the most significant (but under examined) figures in the history of U.S. colonialism in the Philippines. Upon the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Worcester, a scientist who had traveled twice to the Philippines on zoological expeditions, established himself as one of America’s leading experts on the Philippines. Over a fourteen-year career as a member of the U.S. colonial regime, Worcester devoted much of his time and energy to traveling among and photographing non-Christian minority groups in the Philippines. He amassed an archive of several thousand photographs taken by him or by government photographers. Worcester deployed those photographs in books, magazine articles, and lectures to promote his belief that the United States should maintain control of the Philippines for decades to come. While many historians have examined American colonial photography in the Philippines, this book is the first lengthy treatment of Worcester’s role in shaping American perceptions of the Philippines in the early twentieth century.

“Mark Rice has done a remarkable job in tracing the history of Worcester’s photographic project, and the final disposition of his output. He draws on a wide range of scholarly literature and has done extensive work to locate primary sources—both Worcester’s papers and archives and collections of photographs and film. Several misinterpretations of some of Worcester’s works have been perpetuated in the literature for decades—by going to the primary sources, Rice has corrected these and presented persuasive new interpretations that make the contrived nature of Worcester’s efforts even more visible.”
—Carla M. Sinopoli, University of Michigan

“Mark Rice does a fabulous job of demonstrating the considerable influence of Dean Worcester’s extraordinary images of the Philippines on U.S. imperial policy in the early twentieth century. But he does much more than that, elegantly and carefully analyzing Worcester’s photographs and films from a dazzling variety of perspectives, and in the process offering an innovative reading of this zoologist turned colonial administrator whose presentations of the Philippines to American audiences and policy-makers alike would prove so powerful.”
—Philippa Levine, University of Texas at Austin

Cover photograph: Dean C. Worcester, “Bontoc Igorot Man, type 1. Full length front view,” Manila (1901). Courtesy of the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology. UMMA 08-A-004.

Mark Rice is Professor and Chair of American Studies at St. John Fisher College.

Praise / Awards

  • "Rice (St. John Fisher College ) offers a critical appraisal of [Worcester]... The book, neither sympathetic nor balanced, is a detailed examination of Worcester’s role in supporting the US venture in colonialism through his photos. But it is thorough and well written, and is an excellent source on Worcester and the Philippines in the early 20th century... Recommended."
  • "In this fascinating and often chilling study, [Rice] pieces together the ways in which Worcester staged and manipulated photographs of what were called ‘non-Christian tribes’, rural ethnic minorities, to support the idea that the people of the Philippines overall were too diverse, too ‘uncivilized’ and ‘savage’, to rule themselves...Rice skilfully unravels the complex process through which ethnology, racism, politics, and photography intersected to create Worcester’s ‘fantasy islands’."
    --Eleanor M. Hight, History of Photography

  • "[Dean Worcester's Fantasy Islands] is worth reading, engaging, and reminding ourselves that the photos, films that Worcester captured, and the lectures he wrote, which are all never neutral, can be used to construct certain notions of truth, which Rice, in this book, rightly and justifiably refers to as fantasy. By providing a reading of Worcester’s project, Rice proves able and capable of using colonial photographies, films, and lectures, and (re)constructing Philippine realities."
    --Budhi: A Journal of Ideas and Culture
  • "This work is groundbreaking as it discusses Worcester’s images as an integral collection, places them in the context of the exploits of Worcester in the Philippines, and
    seeks to uncover how and when certain images were made."
    --Perspectives in the Arts and Humanities Asia
  • Winner of the Phillipines 2016 Gintong Aklat (Golden Book) Award

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 232 pages.
  • 25 B&W Photographs, 1 Table.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12033-8

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