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Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados

Filipino Scholarship and the End of Spanish Colonialism

2012
Author:

Megan C. Thomas

Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados

A study of Filipino intellectuals that reevaluates the political uses of colonial Orientalism and anthropology

The writings of a small group of scholars known as the ilustrados are often credited for providing intellectual grounding for the Philippine Revolution of 1896. Megan C. Thomas shows that the ilustrados’ anticolonial project of defining and constructing the “Filipino” involved Orientalist and racialist discourses that are usually ascribed to colonial projects, not anticolonial ones.

Rigorously researched and lucidly written, Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados breaks new ground in the study of the 19th century Philippines. In particular, the book stands out in its careful attention to texts produced by the intellectuals at the center of its story. Importantly, Megan C. Thomas frames—and powerfully defamiliarizes—canonical works and authors by placing them alongside lesser-known texts, a move that is not only recuperative and inclusive, but transformative.

Paul A. Kramer, author of The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines

The writings of a small group of scholars known as the ilustrados are often credited for providing intellectual grounding for the Philippine Revolution of 1896. Megan C. Thomas shows that the ilustrados’ anticolonial project of defining and constructing the “Filipino” involved Orientalist and racialist discourses that are usually ascribed to colonial projects, not anticolonial ones. According to Thomas, the work of the ilustrados uncovers the surprisingly blurry boundary between nationalist and colonialist thought.

By any measure, there was an extraordinary flowering of scholarly writing about the peoples and history of the Philippines in the decade or so preceding the revolution. In reexamining the works of the scholars José Rizal, Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes, Pedro Paterno, Pedro Serrano Laktaw, and Mariano Ponce, Thomas situates their writings in a broader account of intellectual ideas and politics migrating and transmuting across borders. She reveals how the ilustrados both drew from and refashioned the tools and concepts of Orientalist scholarship from Europe.

Interrogating the terms “nationalist” and “nationalism,” whose definitions are usually constructed in the present and then applied to the past, Thomas offers new models for studying nationalist thought in the colonial world.

Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados

Megan C. Thomas is associate professor of politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados

Rigorously researched and lucidly written, Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados breaks new ground in the study of the 19th century Philippines. In particular, the book stands out in its careful attention to texts produced by the intellectuals at the center of its story. Importantly, Megan C. Thomas frames—and powerfully defamiliarizes—canonical works and authors by placing them alongside lesser-known texts, a move that is not only recuperative and inclusive, but transformative.

Paul A. Kramer, author of The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines

Megan C. Thomas’s attention to the dissonances between writers of the late nineteenth century is as important as her observation of the emergent nationalism that was their legacy.

Rosalind Carmel Morris, Columbia University

By writing such a powerfully conceptualized and well-researched intellectual history of nineteenth-century Philippines, Thomas builds on and advances our understanding of the importance of the Philippines and of Filipinos in the nineteenth-century world and to the global and cosmopolitan exchange of knowledge and ideas.

Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

Thomas refreshingly lets the primary documents speak for themselves, rather than forcing texts to fit awkwardly into broader theoretical frames.

Southeast Asian Studies

The author provides a fresh and interesting perspective on an old, familiar topic.

Philippine Studies

Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction. Worldly Colonials: Ilustrado Thought and Historiography

1. Locating Orientalism and the Anthropological Sciences: The Limits of Post-Colonial Critiques
2. The Uses of Ethnology: Thinking Filipino with “Race” and “Civilization”
3. Practicing Folklore: Universal Science, Local Authenticity, and Political Critique
4. Is ‘K’ a Foreign Agent? Philology as Anti-Colonial Politics
5. Lessons in History: The Decline of Spanish Rule, and Revolutionary Strategy
Conclusion: Politics and the Methods of Scholarly Disciplines

Notes
Index