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The Philippines and World History


Introduction: Forum on the Philippines and World History

Guest Editor, James Tueller


     It is the intent of the authors of the articles in this Forum on the Philippines and World History is to share their knowledge about the Philippines so that we as readers and learners can achieve, first, a better understanding of the rich history of the more than 100 million Philippine people and second, identify that history in its relation to world history themes, processes, chronologies and places of encounter.

     The connection between modern world history and that of the Philippine Islands would seem obvious given its many boundaries, borders, and trade connections. This modern nation of 7,000 and more islands shares much with the other archipelagos in Southeast Asia. But it also differs from its neighbors. To the east, the islands border the Pacific Ocean. For Spanish speakers, the Philippines are often categorized as part of the Pacific Islands. The shared history of the Philippines, the Marianas and the Carolines point to this Spanish connection, all having been named for Spanish royals (Prince Philip, Queen Mariana and King Charles II). This was a product of the conquest of the islands by Spain, whose prior experience in the colonization of the Americas was put work spreading Catholicism in the Philippines, whose success stands as an example of the geographic expansion of a religious doctrine, if also the strength of indigenous belief and practice in the face of such expansion. Later, the Philippines became for decades an unincorporated American territory with an Insular Government that reported to a newly-created Bureau of Insular Affairs. The islands are no longer part of the U.S.A., since the Commonwealth era of 1935 and independence in 1946, but multi-national corporations today establish call centers and even central offices in the Philippines because of its many colloquial American English speakers. While many Filipinos have Hispanic surnames, few now speak Spanish.

     In the Twenty-First Century, headlines about modern political processes, economics, terrorism, and war in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines are common news items. The current democratically elected President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte (born 1945, elected in 2016) seems to be but one example of a global rise in populist regimes. His predecessors (he is the sixteenth president), include Emilio Aguinaldo, Manuel Quezon, Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino, each of whom were driven by other global processes requiring them to make choices within global as well as national constraints. For example, they had to address their country's use as a base of American strategic operations from 1898 through the Pacific War at mid-century to the Cold War, with the Philippine government able to fully control its external affairs only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

     This Forum, however, seeks to illuminate the history of the Philippines within world history before the better-known events between the Spanish American War and independence after World War II. The inhabitants of the Philippines lived history reaches back deep into the archaeological record. Visitors to Manila can visit the National Museum and see the recovered remains of cargo from six wrecked Chinese junks, all clearly sailing to and from the islands before the 1500s. Old artefacts point not only to Chinese visitors, but also to Muslim conversion, and pre-modern trade networks with other Southeast Asian islands, with the rest of Asia and the Indian Ocean. It would thus be very wrong to suppose that world history in the Philippines only began with the Spanish arrival. For example, when Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Visayas (central Philippines islands) in 1521 and made an alliance with Rajah Humabon, who was baptized with the Christian name Carlos, his title was rajah – a word that entered into Southeast Asia from long contact with Indian languages and political parlance. Thus, a typical division of world history before, as well as after 1500 very much includes the Philippines.

     In this Forum, however, delves into world history methodology as well as chronology. Its first article (Paul Adams) proposes a method to incorporate “small countries” into world history story-telling, teaching and knowing, reminding us of the fallacy that small or “insignificant” cannot be part of world history. He points to how easily the Philippines fits into a world history (ancient, pre-modern, and modern or contemporary). The Philippines could be a hinge to world history from 3,000 years ago or 300 years ago. And why not today, as well? Two of the articles (Stephen Fluckiger and Ethan Hawkley) focus on Spanish records. These sources are relatively abundant and key documents survive as English translations from the Spanish period (1565 to 1898). In our digital age, many of these Spanish sources are available in the original Spanish and English translation on internet websites. Teachers preparing world history lessons and students writing research papers who want primary sources can access one such example at

A fourth article (Didac Cubeiro) focuses on global transportation history after the advent of steam-powered ships and port and harbor improvements that transformed the world, a process seen in the development of Manila and other ports in the Philippines. Cubeiro's examination of the Spanish Empire's attempts to modernize the port infrastructure in Manila to accommodate the newest—and deep draught—steel hulled steamships demonstrates the global reach of new maritime technology and the associated transnational flow of capital investments necessary to support them. It also shows how rich an evidentiary record survives for port cities, in Manila and elsewhere, that may, as in this case study, increase our world history understandings as well as local history.

     A fifth article (Paul Rodell) compares the elite, educated Filipino experience with similar students and writers in West Africa (late 19th to mid-20th Centuries). Compare and contrast assignments in a world history courses rightly draw criticisms from experts who know so well the differences and unique circumstances for the events, circumstances and people being compared. Comparing and contrasting persist because the exercise strengthens memory, increases comprehension, enhances content area writing and develops an analytical habit of mind.

     The Forum authors do not believe that the writing of world history through the lens of the Philippine experience (the macro seen through the micro) is superior to the construction of a macro-history (cosmic origins, the agricultural revolution, industrialization), nor do they believe the Philippine experience is fundamental to our understanding world history. What all argue is that the people of the Philippines have an important history which connects, illuminates, and renders more accessible major world history themes from pre-modern trade to global cultural modernity.


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