Visualizing Imperialism & the Philippines, 1898-1913

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In this course we use visual records as a way of understanding history at the turn of the 20th century. Learners will learn how to navigate visual primary sources and use them to investigate:

  • the historical debates that emerged in political cartoons;
  • issues of race and prejudice in both cartooning and photography;
  • photography as a tool of power in conquest and colonization;
  • the often forgotten Philippine-American war;
  • ethnographic photography;
  • how the theme of civilization and barbarism appeared to justify imperial wars;
  • early use of cross-cultural photography in mass media.

The roundtable discussion format of the course will set up a discursive and exploratory style of learning. Learners will be exposed to multiple points of view as the teaching team brings together scholars who have studied the topics from different disciplines. Learners will also learn how to work with visual evidence as primary sources to assemble arguments.

For teachers, the course presents a number of units developed for the MIT Visualizing Cultures (VC) project. The instructors are the authors who created the VC resource, and the course provides a pathway into the VC website content. The VC website is widely taught in both secondary and college courses, and is the primary resource for this course. Educators can selectively pick modules that target needs in their classrooms; the course can be used in a “flipped” classroom where students are assigned modules as homework.


Christopher Capozzola
Christopher Capozzola
Christopher Capozzola graduated from Harvard College and completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 2002. At MIT, he teaches courses in political and legal history, war and the military, and the history of international migration, and in 2018 was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT’s highest honor for undergraduate teaching. He is currently completing a history of Filipinos in the U.S. armed forces and has contributed as an author to the Visualizing Cultures project.
John W. Dower
John W. Dower
Co-founder of the MIT Visualizing Cultures project in 2002. A leading scholar on Japan during and after World War II, Dower received multiple awards for his 1999 book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II including the Pulitzer Prize, US National Book Award for Nonfiction, Bancroft Prize, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Mark Lynton History Prize, and John K. Fairbank Prize of the American Historical Association. His book, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, was a groundbreaking study that accessed history through the visual record, comparing images of the other by the US and Japan during World War II.
Ellen Sebring
Ellen Sebring

Ellen Sebring, media artist and theorist, was a Research Fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, and the founding Creative Director of the MIT Visualizing Cultures project, with new units in projection in 2020, and a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University (2017-2018). Her book, Centerbook: the Center for Advanced Visual Studies and the Evolution of Art-Science-Technology at MIT , was released fall 2019. Sebring's immersive reality applications enhance visual access to history, focused on the Boxer Uprising in China, 1900.