Every empire or powerful nation in history has started off with honorable ideals but then excessive pride builds up and they feel the need to expand and enforce their ideals onto other people and/or nations. Eventually, they end up exemplifying the very opposite of their original ideals.

Our second lecturer for spring quarter in Hum. core taught us about American Imperialism in the Philippines, the Vietnam conflict (aka Vietnam War) and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. She showed us how they were all connected and similar. Honestly, Professor Vo’s lectures were the most interesting in Humanities Core: she tied these historical events together (the best way to view history), she talked about the flaws and strengths of every country involved, and she gave my wonderful homecity of Long Beach, CA a shout-out because of our Cambodia Town (I actually grew up in that area, but I’m Latina).

American (and European) Imperialism pushed the idea that they were taking control of other countries/territories – in the case of the US: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii – for their own good. The easy way of propaganda was that we, the USA, were going to civilize them, and they were going to be happy, and we were going to be happy, rich and famous… by killing and exploiting the people and their resources.

The Google definition of civilize is to “bring (a place or people) to a stage of social, cultural, and moral development considered to be more advanced.” For some reason, US (and European) culture is considered advanced. So what did we look like in the 1890s, in the years leading up to the 1898 Spanish-American War? What did we have to brag about and to theoretically want to spread to the world?

I am going to look at the popular culture of that decade, because pop culture is always the funnest thing to look at in American history.


The 1890s was the last decade of the Victorian Era, 1837-1901. For me, this era always brings to mind the vivid imagery from Charles Dickens’ novels describing the early decades of the era, and Anne of Green Gables, because it takes place in the 1890s with those crazy puffed sleeves.

Men’s fashion – February 1895


The Gibson Girl, created by Charles Dana Gibson, was the ideal female look.

Before becoming an American colony, the Philippines was a colony of Spain, so the Philippines was already influenced by the “civilized” western culture. They blended the two cultures in their fashion.

1895 Filipino Maria Clara dress


How the Other Half Lives, a photojournalism book by Jacob Riis, published in 1890, showing how the working class lived in the unsanitary and crowded tenements of New York.

Emily Dickinson’s posthumously published poems: First Series 1890, Second Series 1891, Third Series 1896

Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, published in 1892, was a landmark book in that it was one of the first novels published that was written by an African American woman, Frances E. W. Harper.


The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, published in 1899, is one of the first works of feminism in the US South.


Edison Movies

The first American films, a trilogy, so to speak, were the 1890, Edison-produced, experimental Monkeyshines films. They were made to test the new kinetoscope, directed by William K. L. Dickson and William Heise.


William Dickson later directed the first kinetoscope film shown in public, Blacksmith Scene (1893) – left, and the first film with sound, The Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894) – right.

The Kiss, 1896, was the first filmed kiss. It was a re-enactment of a scene from the stage musical, The Widow Jones. Directed by William Heise.



The first feature-length film was 1897’s The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight. It was also the first wide-screen film, documenting the boxing match between James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. Being over 90 minutes long, now only a 20 minute clip exists.



 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL, 1893. A world fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus coming to the Americas, there were exhibits of art, new inventions, sciences, and displaying people of “primitive” cultures.


Bibliography/Further Info

1890s Timeline: http://americasbesthistory.com/abhtimeline1890.html

1890 Fast Facts: https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/fast_facts/1890_fast_facts.html

Sleeve Shifts of the 1890s: http://historicalsewing.com/sleeve-shifts-of-the-1890s

Philippine Folklife: http://philippinefolklifemuseum.org/portfolio_skills/fashion/

American Literature, Music, and Movies 1890-99: http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/1890m.html

List of American Films of the 1890s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_films_of_the_1890s

What Remains of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair: http://all-that-is-interesting.com/1893-chicago-fair

1890s Music: http://www.pbs.org/crucible/music.html


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s