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The Philippines and World History


Toward a World History of Small Countries: The Philippines as a Global Connector

Paul Vauthier Adams


     The central theme in conventional history is power, the power of great states, great armies, and great economies. Great countries "unify" through conquest, expand, build empires on which the sun never sets, have big cities, and great monuments. Voltaire observed that the "greats" of history were but "illustrious wicked men," and so it would seem with great powers too.1 The historiographical problem with small countries is that they don't invade, massacre, and enslave nearly enough to deserve notice. What war crime can we lay at the feet of Luxemburg, or Andorra, or Singapore? Yes, there is enough butchery on the small scale in the struggles among tiny polities.  But to find a prominent place in the general narratives of World History, bigness seems essential.

     I am brought to this observation after reflecting on some experiences and conversations I have had with historians over the past decade or so.  The first of these is a set of experiences with teaching and writing world history with Filipino historians in the Philippines—at the University of San Carlos, at Ateneo de Manila, and at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. These historians and their students have been polite but skeptical, unconvinced for the most part that the New World History has much to offer them. They teach, write, and study mostly Philippine national history, some history of Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and the United States. But our version of a world history offers little place for the Philippines beyond passing anecdotes: Magellan arrived, there was a Spanish-American War (in Cuba!), MacArthur returned, Imelda had her shoes, Cory Aquino went to Washington and addressed Congress. That's it!  At a World History symposium in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in January 2012 a professor at Pannasastra University spoke passionately about the world history some of us had brought along with our suitcases, saying in effect that it did not accommodate the kind of world he and his countrymen experienced, or his sense of history.  I made a note: maybe Cambodian historians could write their own version of a world history, not one that we serve up fully cooked, but an alternative vision. In 2014, AHA Perspectives carried an essay "Why Caribbean History Matters" by Lillian Guerra. In it she describes how she has experienced the disparagement of Caribbean history by some of our less enlightened colleagues who see in Cuban history, for example, nothing worthy of World History beyond the Cuban Revolution, as if the plantation complex, the Atlantic migration of a million or more enslaved or indentured laborers, and the centrality of Cuba to the Spanish Empire in the nineteenth century were of little interest.  To Cubans and Spaniards this history mattered and continues to matter a great deal. At a recent AHA meeting, over dinner with a few historians who shared an interest in World History, a young woman whose specialization is 20th century Spain expressed her frustrations at historians who asserted her specialization is not "really" World History.  At a symposium at Harvard in 2014 on global commercialization of agriculture, a colleague whose contributions to the meeting were most interesting asked me "why the Philippines?" inferring that it was such an obscure corner of the world.  These incidents have a common thread: a lack of information, a lack of imagination, and a failure to appreciate that small countries matter.

     Then I remembered what the late pioneer world historian Philip Curtin identified as the two main questions a world history should address: how the world got to be the way it is; how we got to be the way we are. These two questions are so similar that they are nearly the same one. Our World History is precisely that: Ours, a history of humanity as imagined by the Western Academy. Different world histories are possible.  Asian scholars, especially Chinese historians, have been at work on one that is informed by their world view.2  Could not a world history by and for one or more small countries be enlightening, and, instead of eclipsing, enhance their national histories? Does this invite historiographical chaos? I don't think so. It invites creative thought. History after all is malleable and can endure being bent into different shapes.

     The category "small countries" requires some definition.  "Small countries" can be taken as a proxy for world areas and their societies whether large or small that are mostly overlooked in the standard narrative of general history. They range in size from very large, such as Indonesia with a population in the year 2016 of about 258 million, to very small, such as Vatican City or Niue in the South Pacific with populations slightly more than one thousand each.  Japan at 127 million or France at 67 million receive whole chapters in standard histories.  Certainly these differences in coverage depend on their world historical impact. Measured by languages, for example, English, French, and Spanish are world languages spoken by millions of people beyond their original locality, which has something to do with European Imperialism and colonization after c. 1500. Japan had its go at Imperialism in the first half of the twentieth century, which has won it enduring attention.  Going to war against the USA assures a secure place in World History.

     Small countries matter in World History for other reasons. First, and maybe most importantly, they matter a great deal to themselves, to the people for whom they are home. A narrative that trivializes or ignores their cultural experiences while overtly or implicitly extolling the achievements of great powers is disagreeable. Attention to one or two events in a society's history, e.g. the Cuban Revolution or the Cambodian killing fields, needs to be contextualized both globally and nationally. How is the Cuban Revolution part of the larger post-World War II movement toward national liberation? How does genocide in Cambodia compare to other genocidal phenomena? Cambodia. Laos and Vietnam matter a great deal to their citizens, but a history that reduces them to the Vietnam War, as if there were no others, or that reduces Cambodia to Angkor Wat and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, or that reduces the Philippines to the Manila Galleons, MacArthur returning, and Imelda Marcos's shoes—these trivialize the growth of long-enduring complex societies who demand greater understanding from World History if the citizens of these countries can be expected to take an interest in it. If they are to find their own place in World History, then World History should leave a door open to them. Their historians are surely the best judges of how their story fits, or, maybe better, how World History fits their story.

     Small countries as a type have relationships to the great powers around them that systematic study may find revealing. Small countries in themselves are a global phenomenon. Some, such as Singapore or Lichtenstein, have become fantastically affluent and offer ideal conditions for their residents. Others such as Timor-Leste or Kiribati suffer from poverty, environmental distress, or political crises. As a type they have had to find ways to co-exist with their powerful neighbors, and to defend themselves, especially their natural resources, from rapacious exploitation.3  Most of these countries have been studied from multiple perspectives. But these studies should not be allowed to sit quietly in specialized journals or monographs; they need to find their way into a globally conceived history.

     Then there is a case for case-studies.  As a practical matter the limiting factor to studying any locality, small country, island, or quiet village, is whether sufficient information can be found. Recent advances in archaeology and historical genetics have liberated history from the tyranny of written sources. The sun has long set on the hoary notion that history begins with written records.4 Village studies constitute a large genre of histories that take their subjects as case studies, with lessons for their larger socio-geographical contexts.  Robert Darnton characterizes them as trying to "see the universe in a grain of sand," and many do indeed see far, if not quite beyond Earth.5 Probably no inhabited place can be considered more remote than Easter Island.  Yet Paul Bahn has created a history of how its inhabitants, the descendants of Polynesian colonists, managed to ruin their environment and ultimately themselves, which he shapes into a lesson of global significance.6  Some small societies have come into the light of written sources precociously. The Philippines, for example, from the late 16th century came at least partly under the authority of Spanish Church and civil authorities who produced copious records on their activities, and many devout or intellectually curious individuals wrote observations about the indigenous inhabitants. Earlier, beginning in the second century CE visiting Chinese merchants and authorities wrote tantalizingly brief descriptions of what were to them at first almost mythical islands, and by the 10th century familiar places.7

     Many so-called small countries have been critical places for the turnings of world history. About islands Braudel says "the events of history often lead to the islands. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they make use of them."8 If William McNeill can characterize Venice as "the hinge of Europe," and if the Fortunate Isles off the coast of west Africa inspired Charles Verlinden to imagine a Mediterranean Atlantic, a concept that Alfred Crosby has used so effectively, then, as I am about to propose, the great East Asian archipelago with the Philippines as its Pacific hinge deserves consideration as well.9 Perhaps it goes along the lines of the old adage: all small countries are equal, but some are more equal than others.

     The Philippines is an example of a small country that has considerable significance on the scale of global history. Actually the Philippines is an example of a small country that has suddenly become large in the last century, but World History has not yet caught on to this new reality.  When World History admits the Philippines into the standard story c. 1565–71 with Legaspi's establishment of Spanish settlements in Cebu and Manila, it had less than a million people.  Today it has a population a little over 103 million, making it the twelfth largest country in the world.  Over eleven million Filipinos live and work abroad, spread widely across Europe, the Middle East, Southeast and East Asia—large numbers in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia.  The largest concentration is found on the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska through British Columbia and California.

      Filipinos constitute their own worldwide web.  They are constantly in contact with families, friends, and business associates by cell phone or other electronic media.  They share information about employment conditions, business and educational affairs, and even medical and scientific knowledge, for, contrary to stereotypes about maids and drivers, many are highly educated professionals, whose training gives them global mobility.  A Filipino can walk into an international airport almost anywhere and make friends with a few kababayan (fellow countrymen) in a matter of minutes. Filipinos have developed a culture of migration: about one in four persons considers work abroad a career goal, and most return home for visits or permanently after their working tours.10

     When did this world diaspora begin?  When did the Philippines go global?  More generally, how does the Philippines fit into a global history?11  The standard Eurocentric and chronologically shallow answer is when Magellan's expedition arrived in 1521 or when the Manila Galleons completed European circumnavigation of the globe beginning in 1572. For Filipino scholars a persistent problem is that Philippine history is, until the last decades of the nineteenth century, essentially European history in Asia. Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch, and English meet and interact with Chinese and Japanese, while Filipinos stand passively in the background—in Manila. It is Philippine history without Filipinos, or for that matter without the rest of the Philippines.  The Galleon trade was a European commercial venture featuring Spanish American silver, Chinese silks, and other luxury goods.  I am reminded of Berthold Brecht's famous poem "A Worker Reads History." Filipino timbermen and carpenters built the ships; Filipino sailors sailed them, comprising half or more of many of the crews.  From the beginning of the nineteenth century Filipino crewmen participated in the sea otter fur trade, and served on Yankee whalers. When Ahab hunted Moby Dick, his longboat crewmen were Filipino sailors and whalers.  There were none more intrepid, and Melville knew it.12  Some recent scholarly studies have built on the Galleon theme. They tell of the Filipino crews, and how some when they arrived in Mexico abandoned ship and settled among the Mexicans.  They describe the slave trade between Asia and the Americas, and catalog the exchanges of plants, animals and customs. But the Galleons are not the whole story of Filipinos in Asia and the Pacific, not even in the era 1572–1813, and Manila is not the whole of the Philippines.13 To find the Filipinos in their own history, one does better to look away from large and small countries, away from Europeans in Asia, altogether away from nations, and look to the deeper past.

     The Philippines is part of a great chain of archipelagoes, an archipelago of archipelagoes.  They extend across the entire coastal range of East Asia from the Indian Ocean, along the southern rim of Southeast Asia, bend northward and continue along the eastern coast, continue beyond the Kamchatka Peninsula, and arc eastward to terminate at the northeastern corner of North America.  In effect they provide island stepping stones that connect Asia to the Americas, Australia and the Pacific islands. Beyond Africa and the Eurasian mainland, the great Asian archipelagoes connect all the rest of the world of human habitation, even the Americas, which are the largest of the Pacific islands. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.  As it happens, the Philippines is a vital link in the network of interconnected humanity.

     There are two main points of connection between the Asian mainland and the Pacific part of the Asian archipelagoes.  The first is between the Korean peninsula and the islands of Japan.   The second is formed by the island of Taiwan and the coast of today's Fujian province of south China. It links with the small Batanes Islands that extend to northern Luzon, which is the northernmost and largest of today's Philippine islands.  Small island chains to the north also connect Taiwan to the Ryukyu islands, which themselves continue north to the Japanese archipelago.  Over the millennia people have moved through these island chains leaving archaeological and genetic traces of their passing.

     The first humans to occupy Southeast Asia and today's southern China date probably to about 40,000 to 60,000 years ago.  They were part of the first anatomically modern human colonizing wave that dispersed across Eurasia.  Those who settled in island Southeast Asia had some kinds of watercraft and found their way to Australia, New Guinea and the nearer Pacific islands known today as Melanesia. Known as Austro-Melanesians, they were scattered thinly over the landscape. Their descendants remain as the indigenous populations of Australia, New Guinea and Melanesia, but most traces of them have been erased in Southeast Asia by a later and much larger colonizing wave of agricultural peoples.14  

     An agricultural revolution took shape in the Yangtze and Hwang-he valleys in the sixth and seventh millennia bce. Between 7000 and 2000 bce populations increased about fifty times.15 This large and growing population core expanded geographically wherever water and fertile land allowed, and one effect was to push agricultural peoples into southeastern Asia overland and by sea.  Those who went overland became linguistically distinctive and are known as Austro-Asiatic, while those who expanded through the islands and seacoasts are known as Austronesian.   By the third millennium bce, agricultural peoples became established on Taiwan and expanded through the archipelagoes to the north and south. Based on the cultivation of rice, taro, coconuts, bananas, and other crops that thrived in the humid tropical climate, and joined to domestication of swine, chickens, and other fowl, this economy also became aquatic, harvesting fish and other marine life in the rivers and nearby seas. This is the world's only agricultural revolution that went to sea, and its expansive powers proved enormous.16

      These Austronesians, as their language family is called, expanded their geographical range southward through the Philippine archipelago.17 There they settled along the coastal lowlands and estuaries.  Gradually over centuries some moved inland and upland along small rivers and streams that drain the mountainous interior. Forests of huge dipterocarp hardwoods that reached up to thirty and even sixty meters tall offered the materials for construction of seaworthy watercraft.18  The resources of the sea and frontier lands of thousands of islands and deeply indented coastlines of the Asian mainland provided the incentives. Somewhere in the Philippines the outrigger canoe and the double-hulled decked-over vessel came into existence.   Austronesian peoples expanded westward through the islands of Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean to distant Madagascar. Others expanded directly eastward from the Philippines to the islands of Palau and the Marianas.  Still others expanded and settled along the coasts of New Guinea, and continued to the islands of what is today called Melanesia.  Some are known to archaeologists and historians as the Lapita people.19  From these bases, in a history that is still being pieced together by archaeology and archaeogenetic methods, they went on to become Polynesians who settled the islands of the distant Pacific from Hawai'i to Easter Island and New Zealand.20 Not one-time voyagers, these Austronesian peoples continued to interact, traveling back and forth, even as they became culturally distinctive in their respective environments.  Their knowledge of the sea and tropical resources became a basis, a latent network, that the expanding civilizations on the Asian mainland, conspicuously India and China, were able to utilize, enough so that by the tenth century ce written sources begin to shed light on them.

     Prehispanic contacts between the Philippines and east and southeastern Asia make a surprisingly long story.  A small mountain of archaeological evidence—porcelain, bronze, and iron objects—document considerable regional exchanges in the centuries before written sources become available, and there is no shortage of studies. 21 The first written sources are Chinese and date to the 10th century ce. Filipino traders and raiders went to the south China coast, usually via the northern route to Taiwan, before Chinese came to the Philippines. Sources mention Philippine ports in 982, and in 1001 the Chinese court welcomed a tribute mission from what is described as a small country in the sea east of Champa called Pu-duan (today's Butuan).22 Visayan slave raiders attacked the Fujian coast in 1171 and 1172. 23  The Ming emperor received emissaries from Borneo in 1371, Okinawa in 1372 and Luzon in 1373.  In 1417 Paduka Batara, the chief of a Sulu (southeastern Mindanao) delegation died at a Chinese governmental hostel in Shandong, and a memorial arch and gateway erected in his honor still stands. 24 A foremost expert on prehispanic sources and history, William Henry Scott writes: "There is hardly an island from Itbayat (Batanes) to Tawi Tawi whose grave sites have not yielded Chinese porcelain.  Butuan citizens have dug it up from their back yards, marine archaeologists have recovered it still stacked in bundles from shipwreck cargoes, and Manila collectors and dealers reckon the traffic in whole or restored pieces in the hundreds of thousands."25 In the 1590s Filipinos of northern Luzon exported Chinese porcelains to Japan.26 They had no association with silver, silk, galleons or Spaniards. These were indigenous tradesmen moving Chinese goods through the archipelagoes as they had for centuries.  There were countless other voyages between the Philippines and southern China, or ports farther south in Borneo or Java that conveyed various cargoes such as cinnamon or silk, and even staples such as rice.  Before and after the Spanish invasion the Philippines had many harbors big and small through which cargoes passed freely.

     Through the islands west of Borneo men generally referred to as Luçones or Luzones had established trading stations. The Summa Oriental of Tome Pires, a Portuguese apothecary in Malacca, in 1512 refers to Filipinos as Luçoes, and says they have two or three ships trading between Luzon, Borneo and Malacca, and about 500 Luçoes in Selangor, among them merchants and important men.27  These Luçoes joined merchantmen from Arabia and Persia, Javanese, and Malays from Malacca or Sumatra. By these routes Filipinos found their way into the Indian Ocean trading entrepôts. Where direct references lack, linguistic studies help.  Many Sanscrit and south Indian dialectal words have found their way into Philippine languages, more in Tagalog than other regional languages, but substantial numbers also in Visayan, Ilocano and Taosug.28   Magellan who had been in Malacca in 1512–13 doubtlessly learned of the Philippines, determined to go there by a western route across the Pacific, and may even have learned of Cebu, where he eventually landed and met his end.29

     When Iberians found their way to the China Seas, a vibrant trading network was already in place. It included merchant adventurers from ports in the Ryukyu Islands, from Japan, Chinese in the Nanhai trade, Arabs, Persians, and the Portuguese were newly arrived. Historians sometimes underestimate the involvement of Chinese traders, but, as John Wills says, in 1511 when the Portuguese conquered Malaka, "the Chinese were everywhere, even though the Ming state forbade all maritime voyages by Chinese."30  The Philippines stood at its eastern edge, an excellent vantage-point from which to engage in the China trade, at which many local Luzones were already experienced.  The silk and American silver trade was not the immediate inducement, nor was the oceanic trade in furs and whales.  Spanish investors sought spices and the Spanish Hapsburgs sought a strategic position in Southeast Asia from which to check the ambitions of their dynastic rivals in the Netherlands, Portugal, Britain, and France. The fortunes to be made they discovered quickly enough. The fabulous Galleon trade moved silks and silver that surely would have found their way around the world the other way, as they had for centuries before by overland or Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean sea routes.31  Yet the Galleon trade made a fateful turn in history.  It Christianized and hispanized/Europeanized an entire people and defined them as a nation-state.

     The Spanish connection also helped bring Americans to the western Pacific. Yankee seamen accustomed to the cold stormy North Atlantic and untrammeled by British or other regulations on merchant shipping after 1783 sailed blithely around Cape Horn and into the balmy Pacific in search of sea otter and seal pelts and whales.  Melville's tales of the south Pacific islands, peoples, whaling, and sailing are found in this context.  They hunted sea otters and sold their pelts in Canton, and learned about the China trade. Some Yankee ships harbored at Philippine ports to make repairs, take on provisions, and to recruit labor.32  Filipino and American seamen joined each other aboard ships, even as the Filipinos had joined Spanish mariners on the galleons, but with very different consequences. The history of American involvement in the Philippines did not begin as an accidental by-product of the Spanish-American war.  For Americans the Philippines opened a doorway to trade in southern China, became a colony, and then evolved into a military stronghold from which to project American power.  There is a fascinating untold story of Americans and Filipinos that predates that war, and doubtlessly began in the 1780s.

     Beginning in the 1780s and over the next century and a half the Philippines was swept into the globalizing mainstream, and by forces over which its indigenous inhabitants had little or no control. In western Europe the industrial and political revolutions of the 1760–1848 era and the modern population explosion gave shape to the new age of nationalism and imperialism.33 British, French and Dutch ships arrived in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea in greater numbers, bristling with the armaments of modern industrial technology, and with a newly aggressive sense of mission.34 By the 1780s every year some twenty to thirty European ships and a few from the newly independent USA arrived in Canton to trade in silks, porcelains, tea, and other objects.35 Their presence contributed to the decline and by 1813 the definitive end of the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade.

     Instead of the galleons being a vanguard of modernity, their end marks the onset of modernity and globalization in earnest. With the galleon corporation in tatters, the Spanish Crown and its governors-general in Manila beginning with Basco y Vargas (1778–1787) attempted to launch a "general economic plan." It featured an opening of Philippine ports to foreign trade, encouragement of manufacturing, and development of agricultural products for export. Under pressure of European industrial production, particularly English cottons, industries had no chance.  Agricultural exports proved successful, but it took decades to get them under way36.

     A much under-appreciated feature of modern globalization is the rise of commercial agriculture.  The pre-requisite was the new technology of transportation, railways and coal-fired steam ships that conveyed rapidly and cheaply bulky cargoes across continents and oceans. The massive increase in world populations after c. 1740 provided the labor force and exerted its own demand for foodstuffs, and greatly accelerated urbanization also provided markets. The increase in food supplies to feed the world's new millions came not from mechanization, but mainly from vast increases in lands under cultivation, with directly proportionate growth of the labor force. Southeast Asia is seldom recognized as a frontier, but over the last two centuries its agricultural lands have expanded enormously, and populations with them.37

     In the Philippines, for example, the western half of the island of Negros went from   subsistence agriculture, fishing, and foraging that supported a sparse population of about 18,000 persons in 1818 to 392,000 persons by 1918, supported by a vast sugar plantation that produced over half of the country's entire sugar crop.38 The Philippine economy through the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century over wide areas became directed to cash-crop production.  British shipping and commercial interests firmly entrenched in India and China became the principal buyers and investors in Philippine commercial agriculture in partnership with mestizo Chinese-Filipino as the hacienda masters.  As one observer stated, "from the commercial point of view the Philippines is an Anglo-Chinese colony with a Spanish Flag."39 The principal exports were sugar, abaca (or hemp), tobacco, copra, and coffee.  Rice has been for millennia a staple of the indigenous diet, grown in paddies or swiddens by farmers big and small almost everywhere. After 1870 the Philippines became a net rice importer.  Because of its cultural significance this shift becomes a kind of symbolic threshold, but more importantly it demonstrates how the economy had become globally interdependent.

     Foreign trade data compiled and explained in Benito Legarda's renowned After the Galleons offer many useful insights into this commercialization process. Very briefly: Through the nineteenth century the main trading partners of the Philippines were Britain and China, each of whom accounted for about thirty percent of both imports and exports. Spain who ruled the Philippines ostensibly to its benefit nonetheless traded considerably less, about ten percent of exports and imports, since it had a substantially smaller domestic population and an attenuated merchant fleet.  The United States, which received about fifteen to twenty percent of Philippine exports by the 1840s, sent to the Philippines only about half as much. These numbers fluctuated over time, but rose substantially from the 1830s through the early twentieth century. The USA's share became steadily larger.40 The dominance of Britain in the China Seas trade and its growing power in the Canton entrepôt is evident, reaching a critical turning point in the Opium Wars (1839–42, 1856–60) that ultimately led to the political collapse of China.41 Meanwhile the USA had clearly become actively engaged in Philippine commercial agriculture, in the China trade, in the Pacific sea hunts, and American ships became accustomed to visiting Philippine ports to recruit labor, take on provisions, and make repairs.42 Commercial interests joined American nationalist sentiments frequently expressed in blustering speeches that projected the spirit of Manifest Destiny to Pacific Asia.43  In 1898–1900 the USA claimed control of Hawai'i, and in these same years established US rule in the Philippines. That was no incidental by-product of the Spanish-American War as it is sometimes depicted, but a continuation of a process by which the USA gradually replaced Spain as the dominant force in the Americas and the Pacific.

     When the USA did away with the last vestiges of Spanish rule, the Philippines entered a new phase in its relationship to the world.  Americans brought enthusiastic management and a reformist spirit to its new governance, which surveyed, investigated, and catalogued the entire archipelago's flora, fauna, geography economy, and culture.  An enduring feature was the deliberate imposition of American English in government and education.  New generations went into the world speaking an English that was becoming the world's lingua franca.44 Doors opened to the USA and pieces of the former British Empire. A new legal status as U. S. "nationals" without full citizenship gave Filipinos opportunity to migrate to other parts of the American Pacific empire—Guam, Hawai'i, Alaska—and the US mainland, mostly the west coast.  U. S. nativist resistance to Asian immigration in the 1920s and 1930s led to clamor for the Philippines to be granted independence, which lobbying interests from US sugar, rice, and tobacco producers joined.45 After World War II without dissent independence was granted. Yet the die was cast: with the new 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that eliminated racial prohibitions and quotas, Filipinos who had been building familial, financial and emotional ties to the USA immigrated by the thousands each year, and continue to do so. Many also have returned home. Even before the age of passenger jet air travel, the Pacific's vastness, while complicating trans-oceanic communications, has proved no barrier. The people of the archipelago even before they were Filipinos knew that, and American soon enough learned it.

     At the level of foreign policy, the Philippines has long been a foundation for the projection of American commercial and military power in East and Southeast Asia.  Its incorporation into the U. S. Pacific empire drew the Philippines into an international alliance system upon which it has come to depend for national security. U.S. military operations in World War II and its immediate aftermath, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and recent counter-insurgency efforts have relied on Philippine bases, Filipino manpower, and Philippine governmental support. Years ago, Theodore Friend wrote Between Two Empires about the Philippines caught up in the conflict and war between the USA and Japan, 1929–1946.46 Such is the situation for small countries caught in a squeeze between the Great Powers.  China, the USA, Japan, and the small countries of the China Seas confront one another, and the issue of the two Koreas keeps international insecurity at elevated pitch. Meanwhile many thousands of Filipino overseas workers in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and elsewhere watch warily, work, and hope to live peacefully.

     The observations above highlight some of the main points at which the Philippine experience over thousands of years cuts across and gives tangibility to much of world history. This long view, the longue durée, a broad geographical perspective, and seeing the Philippines in that context, I believe will open doors to better understanding of the human experience.  Though on the other side of the Eurocentric academic world, the Philippine experience is close to us—wherever we may be—and there is much to learn from it. The experiences of other societies, large or small, that are neglected in world history have much to teach us.

Paul Vauthier Adams is Professor Emeritus of History, Shippensburg University.  His interests are comparative world history and Eurasian socio-economic history, with specialization in the agricultural and demographic history of Southeast Asia and western Europe.  He can be reached at


1 François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, "Letters on the English, Letter XII—On the Lord Bacon." Great Books Online, accessed August 10, 2017.

2 Important is the Asian Association of World Historians, which since 2013 has been publishing Asian Review of World History. See Liu Xincheng, "The Global View of History in China," Journal of World History 23(2012), 491–511.

3 Suggestive is Thongchai Winichakul and Eric Tagliacozzo, "Gradations of Colonialism in Southeast Asia's 'in between' Places," in Norman G. Owen, ed., Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian History (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2014), 36–45.

4 Daniel Lord Smail, On Deep History and the Brain (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), Chapter 1, "The Grip of Sacred History," 12–39, explains why.

5 Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton,1991), 97.

6 Paul Bahn and John Flenley, Easter Island, Earth Island (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992).

7 William Henry Scott, Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History (Manila: New Day Publishers, 1984). C. L. Wu, A Study of References to the Philippines in Chinese Sources from Earliest Times to the Ming Dynasty (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1959).

8 Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), I: 154.

9 William H. McNeill, Venice: the Hinge of Europe, 10811797 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1974).  Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 9001900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

10 Calculations of per capita rates of migration by country is a complicated subject, since regular peacetime migration and migration driven by war or natural disaster must be distinguished, as must temporary or permanent and other variables too.  The largest raw numbers of emigrants originate in the largest populations, India and China, but they send per capita only one to three percent, while the Philippines sends about eleven percent. In total emigrants the Philippines ranks eighth. None are more widely scattered over the world. "The Philippines Culture of Migration," Migration Information Source, January 1, 2006.  Robyn Magalit Rodgriguez, Migrants for Export (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 75–92.  Filomeno V. Aguilar, ed., Filipinos in Global Migrations: At Home in the World? (Quezon City: Philippine Migration and the Philippine Social Science Council, 2002).

11 Valuable is Jennifer L. Gaynor, "Ages of Sail, Ocean Basins and Southeast Asia," Journal of World History 24 no. 2 (2013):  309–33.

12 Herman Melville, Moby Dick, was first published in 1851.

13 See Eva Maria Mehl, Forced Migration in the Spanish Pacific World. From Mexico to the Philippines, 17651811 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Arturo Giraldez, The Age of Trade: The Manila Galleons and the Dawn of the Global Economy (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015); Rainer F. Buschmann, Edward R. Slack Jr., James B. Tueller, Navigating the Spanish Lake: The Pacific in the Iberian World, 15211898 (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2014) and Tatiana Seijas, Asian Slaves in Colonial Mexico: from Chinos to Indians.  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

14 Peter Bellwood, First Migrants: Ancient Migration in Global Perspective (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 71–81. Chris Clarkson, et al. "Human Occupation of Australia by 65,000 Years Ago," Nature, 547, no. 7663 (2017): 306–10.  Frederick C. Delfin, et al., "Complete mtDNA Genomes of Filipino Ethnolinguistic Groups: A Melting Pot of Recent and Ancient Lineages in the Asia-Pacific Region," European Journal of Human Genetics 22, no. 2 (2014), 228–37.  Delfin, "The Population History of the Philippines: A Genetic Overview," Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints 63, no. 4 (2015): 449–76.

15 Bellwood, First Migrants, 178.

16 Peter Bellwood, Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997). Graeme Barker, The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 182–230.  Peter Bellwood, First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005). Peter Bellwood and Colin Renfrew, eds. Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis (Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2002). Hsiao-chun Hung, et al. "Foragers, Fishers and Farmers: Origins of the Taiwanese Neolithic," Antiquity 88, no. 342 (2014), 909–26.

17 K. A. Tabbada, et al. "Philippine Mitochondrial DNA: a Population Viaduct between Taiwan and Indonesia," Molecular Biology and Evolution 27, no. 1 (2010), 21–31.

18 Anthony Reid, "Humans and Forests in Pre-Colonial Southeast Asia," Environment and History 1 (1995), 93–110. Frederick L. Wernstedt and Joseph E. Spencer, The Philippine Island World: A Physical, Cultural and Regional Geography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 91–7.

19 Patrick Vinton Kirch, The Lapita Peoples: Ancestors of the Oceanic World (Cambridge, MA:  Blackwell Publishers, 1997). Kirch, On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands before European Contact (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002).

20 Maria Pala et al. "Archaeogenetics," in Graeme Barker and Candice Goucher, eds., A World with Agriculture (vol. 2, The Cambridge World History), (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 26–54.

21 F. Landa Jocano, Filipino Prehistory:  Rediscovering Precolonial Heritage (Quezon City: Punlad Research House, Inc., 2001). Wilhelm G. Solheim, Archaeology of the Central Philippines: A Study Chiefly of the Iron Age and its Relationships (Manila: National Institute of Science and Technology, 2002—originally 1964). Laura Lee Junker, Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000), 3–28.

22 William Henry Scott, Filipinos in China before 1500 (Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1989), 3.

23 Ibid., 4.

24 Ibid., 8.

25 Scott, Prehispanic Source Materials, 23.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid., 83.

28 Juan R. Francisco, The Philippines and India: Essays in Ancient Cultural Relations (Manila: National Book Store, 1971).

29 William Henry Scott, Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino (Quezon City, New Day Publishers, 1992), 28–32. Laurence Bergreen, Over the Edge of the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2003).

30 John E. Wills, ed., China and Maritime Europe, 15001800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 24. Also see Geof Wade and Sun Laichen, eds., Southeast Asia in the Fifteenth Century: The China Factor (Singapore: National University Press, 2010). Gungwo Wang, The Nanhai Trade: The Early History of Chinese Trade in the South China Sea (Singapore:  Times Academic Pres, 1998)

31 Ralph Kauz, ed., Aspects of the Maritime Silk Road: from the Persian Gulf to the East China Sea (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010.  Claude Guillot, Denys Lombard and Roderick Ptak, eds., From the Mediterranean to the China Sea. (Wiesbaden:  Harrassowitz, 1998). John H. Miksic, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 13001800 (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2013).

32 Filomeno V. Aguilar, "Manilamen and Seafaring: Engaging the Maritime World beyond the Spanish Realm," Journal of Global History 7, no. 3 (2012),  364–88. Eric Jay Dolin, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007).  Dolan, When America First Met China (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2012).

33 William H. McNeill, The Great Frontier: Freedom and Hierarchy in Modern Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 31–7

34 Donald R. Wright, The World and a Very Small Place in Africa (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1997) makes this point. See also Tonio Andrade, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 273–305.

35 Onofre D. Corpuz, An Economic History of the Philippines (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1997), 81.

36 Ibid., 87–138.

37 David Henley, "Population and the Means of Subsistence: Explaining the Historical Demography of Island Southeast Asia, with Particular Reference to Sulawesi," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 36, no. 3 (2005): 337–72. Peter Boomgaard, Children of the Colonial State: Population Growth and Economic Development in Java, 17951880 (Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1989). Boomgaard, Southeast Asia: An Environmental History (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio, 2007), 111–241.

38 John A. Larkin, Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

39 Cited in Benito J. Legarda, Jr., After the Galleons: Foreign Trade, Economic Change and Entrepreneurship in the Nineteenth-Century Philippines (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1999), 93.

40 Ibid., 111–241. See also Alfred W. McCoy and Ed. C. de Jesus, eds., Philippine Social History: Global Trade and Local Transformations (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1982).

41 Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano, eds., Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009); especially Josep M. Fradera, "Reading Imperial Transitions: Spanish Contraction, British Expansion, and American Irruption," pp. 34–62.

42 Aguilar, "Manilamen and Seafaring," 370–74.

43 Dong Wang, The United States and China: A History from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013). James Bradley, The Imperial Cruise: A True Story of Empire and War (Boston: Little, Brown, 2013).

44 David Northrup, How English Became the Global Language (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

45 Rick Baldoz, "The Strange Career of the Filipino 'National': Empire, Citizenship, and Racial Statecraft," in Cindy I-Fen Cheng, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Asian American Studies (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2017), 154–65.  See also Baldoz, The Third Asiatic Invasion: Empire and Migration in Filipino America, 18981946 (New York, New York University Press, 2011).

46 Theodore Friend, Between Two Empires: The Ordeal of the Philippines, 19291946 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965).

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