The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Cities and Nationhood: American Imperialism, Civic Design, and the Philippines, 1898-1916

Principal Investigator


Total Fund Awarded


Funding Source

RGC General Research Fund

Abstract of Project

        The aim of this study is to investigate the design of Philippine cities between 1898 and 1916, a period when significant exercises in urban planning took place.

The Treaty of Paris (1898) initiated America’s administration of the Philippines. By 1905 Manila was replanned and Baguio built as expressions of colonial sovereignty, and as symbols of a society disassociating itself from its hitherto ‘uncivilised’ state of existence. While scholars have suggested that the importation of urban design practices into the Philippines was exclusively tied to the propagation of the City Beautiful Movement, initial research by this author has explicitly linked Philippine urban design to matters of ‘modern civilisation’, ‘cultural progress’, and the promotion of nationhood. Therefore a thorough investigation is now proposed to further elucidate the meaning of urban designing in the Philippines, and to examine its dissemination with respect to colonial ideals, social advancement, and the shaping of national identity.

The inquiry considers how the redevelopment of large-sized settlements alongside the creation of a new city, Baguio, strengthened a centralised sense of nationhood, and how recourse to civic design helped to express this. It thus systematically explores how the conceptualisation and construction of ‘modern cities’ articulated America’s yearning to establish a new culture and disassociate the Philippines from its Spanish colonial past, and its image as a place inhabited by ‘savages’. Using well-established research methods to align American urban design with the evolution of Philippine society, the project shall reinterpret Philippine city development by deviating from the traditional focus on the architect and planner Daniel Burnham. Accordingly, it positions urban design alongside education, politics, and economics as social institutions that have profoundly affected the development of the Philippines as a nation.

The study’s findings will deliver significant insights into the forces that existed during the early years of American rule in the Philippines. The study’s methodology is also of importance. It will offer a historical paradigm that investigates the relationship between environmental design, nationhood, and broad cultural transition. This paradigm will not only improve our understanding of Philippine cities before the passing of the Autonomy Act (1916), but it will also be utilised to illuminate complex national identity movements and city design practices which were evident elsewhere at that time. Topics such as the borrowing, imposition, and assimilation of American urban design in Australia and China could, for instance, be profitably reappraised by the methods validated in this study.

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