The Empire Question: How the South African War, 1899-1902, Shaped Americans' Reactions to U.S. Imperialism

Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2012

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The Empire Question at the start of the twentieth century was not simply a matter of whether the U.S. "republic" should have colonies, but how colonial experiences of other empires informed diverse Americans about their new empire and changing metropolitan society. American engagement with the South African War of 1899 to 1902 showed how global questions of empire intersected with issues at the heart of Americans' concerns about their places in the U.S. and the world. The lines of U.S. territorial possession hardly bounded American debates about the major questions of the day.

This dissertation surveys the surprising breadth and intensity of Americans' feelings toward South Africa around 1900. Americans formed a variety of real and imagined connections to Africans, Dutch-speaking white Boers, and English-speaking settlers in South Africa. Individual chapters focus on the war's effects on social reformers; persons of non-Anglo Northern European national origin; African Americans; white women; peace activists; and practitioners and defenders of U.S. colonial policies.

Coinciding with the U.S. counterinsurgency war in the Philippines, the South African War partially displaced debate over U.S. imperialism onto proxies (Britain in South Africa and the opponent Boers). At the same time, debates over the South African War actively shaped discourse within the U.S. regarding independence, race, gender, imperialism, modern warfare, international law, and, above all, civilization in ways that both supported and obscured U.S. imperial practices.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Howard Brick

Committee Members

Jean Allman, Randall Calvert, Andrea Friedman, Angela Miller, Timothy Parsons


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7513W4T

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