The Collection and the Colonial Narrative

Dublin Core


The Collection and the Colonial Narrative


Taylor Finch

The Collection and Colonial Narrative

            At the close of the 1905 St. Louis World’s Fair, University of Iowa representatives traveled to St. Louis and purchased 600 items from the Philippine Exhibition.[1] These 600 items were part of a much larger Philippine Collection that was carefully cultivated by anthropologists and imperialists to serve the “colonial narrative”. This narrative was to justify American occupation of the Philippines by giving fairgoers a heavily manipulated, simplified view of Filipino society.[2]  As such, the items in the collection were selected to make Filipino technology, industry, and culture appear primitive and inferior.

However, the collection itself ended up subverting this narrative. Complete ignorance of Spanish colonial influence and Philippine technology became painfully evident when fairgoers took a close look at the exhibit. For example, the brass bowl pictured here serves as evidence of Filipino metal work – an advanced industry that thrived without U.S. influence or technology. As this faction of Filipino society did not fit into the imperialist portrait of the “destitute” Philippines, this item captured an inherent contradiction. This contradiction, evident throughout the collection, ultimately failed the colonial narrative and brought an end to human display as an imperialistic tool.[3]

            Today, the remaining collection items at the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History continue to capture that inherent contradiction. By providing evidence of advanced Philippine technology and relation with other countries, the collection subverts the lingering colonial narrative’s harmful portrayal of the Philippines as a backward, isolated society. When the collection is displayed, as it was in 2009 (pictured)[4], it breaks up harmful assumptions of America’s past relations with the Philippines and the “primitive” nature of Filipino culture.

[1] “Report of the Iowa Commission to the Louisiana Purchase Expositon, St. Louis, 1904.” 358.

[2] Paul Kramer, “Making Concessions: Race and Empire Revisited at the Philippine Exposition, St. Louis, 1901-1905,” Radical History Review (2009): 75.

[3] Kramer, 101.

[4] “Rediscovering a Rarely Seen Museum of Natural History Collection,” University of Iowa News Release (August 14, 2009).


Old Capitol Museum Staff


Shalla Ashworth


No Known Rights Restrictions



Old Capitol Museum Staff , “The Collection and the Colonial Narrative ,” History Corps, accessed June 18, 2018,