Department of History
Project: The Invisible War: Spies and Detectives in the Making of the Spanish-Cuban-American War and the American Empire, 1868-1908
My book project, The Invisible War: Spies and Detectives in the Making of the Spanish-Cuban-American War and the American Empire, 1868-1908, reveals the untold story of what is conventionally called the “Spanish-American War” It counters and complicates the simple, single-stranded narrative found in many U.S. accounts which were primarily built from U.S. sources and only U.S. perspectives. According to these sources and perspectives, the 1898 mid-February sinking of the battleship Maine in the port of Havana in Cuba, intensified U.S. popular opinion against Spain and in favor of Cuba’s independence. The explosion on the ship was quickly blamed on the Spaniards, prompting Americans to favor the U.S. Congress’ support of Cuba’s right to independence from Spain. By July that same year, U.S. troops landed in Cuba to fight for Cuba’s independence. One month later, Spain capitulated and ceded to the Americans its territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
However, archival sources I have unearthed in Spain, Cuba, and the USA point to a different story. These sources reveal that this was a war in which the role of information collected by spies and detectives played a deeply significant role. Spanish and American politicians, as well as Cuba’s insurgent leaders, ordered their national realities in a way that required protection from possible threats of adversaries—and danger could come from all sides. With these challenges in mind, agents such as those of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency were increasingly trained in new forms of scientific knowledge such as physiognomy (facial features or expressions), phrenology (shape and size of cranium), and criminology (the scientific study of crime) to improve their detection of suspicious bodies and activities. Espionage activities aimed at gathering information that could provide an advantage in the conflict. They also protected confidential information from enemies by spreading misleading rumors or even sabotaging adversaries’ plans when necessary. My book argues that the knowledge transmitted by spies waged an invisible war of information and disinformation that facilitated the United States’ swift victory after joining the war in 1898. I analyze how different players used surveillance and other covert techniques to understand and influence events. Consequently, this project breaks new ground by exploring how surveillance became an invisible requirement of modern nation building in the nineteenth century.
This project will organize and produce digital text files from over 5,000 archival documents and 150 rare books I have collected for my book on the Spanish-Cuban-American War. The documents are digital images of mimeographed materials, typed documents, newspaper clippings, and hand written letters (which will need to be transcribed and then scanned to digital format). Using a specific set of digital tools for organizing, scanning, and transferring images of text documents, I will transform this large amount of source data into a searchable digital text format which will enable me to analyze, compare and contrast the contents of the documents and to categorize my data by theme and cogent time periods, among other classifications. These digital tools will be invaluable for working with a large body of documents and discovering the different perspectives and interpretations of the same events throughout the three decades of the period of this research. During the summer and fall of 2015, I will systematize the sources, create a workflow, and prepare the document images for textual analysis and visualization within digital tool platforms such as Voyant and Gephi in order to identify themes and important moments and players.