352 pages | 6 x 9 | 18 illus.
Cloth 2019 | ISBN 9780812251005 | $55.00s | Outside the Americas £45.00
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A volume in the series America in the Nineteenth Century
View table of contents and excerpt
"In tracking the careers of army officers from the West to the world, Katharine Bjork shows how ruling strategies and rationalizations for American empire began in the lessons learned and, ominously, unlearned in Indian Country. An essential book for all who would know the roots of America's imperial entanglements, from Cuba and the Philippines to Iraq and Afghanistan."—Louis S. Warren, author of God's Red Son: The Ghost Dance Religion and the Making of Modern AmericaThe Spanish-American War marked the emergence of the United States as an imperial power. It was when the United States first landed troops overseas and established governments of occupation in the Philippines, Cuba, and other formerly Spanish colonies. But such actions to extend U.S. sovereignty abroad, argues Katharine Bjork, had a precedent in earlier relations with Native nations at home. In Prairie Imperialists, Bjork traces the arc of American expansion by showing how the Army's conquests of what its soldiers called "Indian Country" generated a repertoire of actions and understandings that structured encounters with the racial others of America's new island territories following the War of 1898.
"By skillfully tracing the elusive biographical threads of key U.S. Army officers as they shifted seamlessly from fighting 'Indian wars' in the American West to pacifying a Philippine Republic, Katharine Bjork reveals the surprising continuities that shaped the character of U.S. global power."—Alfred McCoy, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"In Prairie Imperialists, Katharine Bjork delivers a necessary and overdue analysis of a pivotal period in U.S. history: she traces the transfer of institutions, the overlap of personnel, and the persistence of mindsets between America's 'Indian Wars' of the late nineteenth century and its post-1898 insular empire. This is the book we have been waiting for."—Christopher Capozzola, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Prairie Imperialists follows the colonial careers of three Army officers from the domestic frontier to overseas posts in Cuba and the Philippines. The men profiled—Hugh Lenox Scott, Robert Lee Bullard, and John J. Pershing—internalized ways of behaving in Indian Country that shaped their approach to later colonial appointments abroad. Scott's ethnographic knowledge and experience with Native Americans were valorized as an asset for colonial service; Bullard and Pershing, who had commanded African American troops, were regarded as particularly suited for roles in the pacification and administration of colonial peoples overseas. After returning to the mainland, these three men played prominent roles in the "Punitive Expedition" President Woodrow Wilson sent across the southern border in 1916, during which Mexico figured as the next iteration of "Indian Country."
With rich biographical detail and ambitious historical scope, Prairie Imperialists makes fundamental connections between American colonialism and the racial dimensions of domestic political and social life—during peacetime and while at war. Ultimately, Bjork contends, the concept of "Indian Country" has served as the guiding force of American imperial expansion and nation building for the past two and a half centuries and endures to this day.
Katharine Bjork is Professor of History at Hamline University and author of In the Circle of Dance: Notes of an Outsider in Nepal.