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Fisher Professor Wins Prestigious Philippines Book Award

September 19, 2016

Dean Worcester's Fantasy Islands: Photography, Film, and the Colonial Philippines, a book written by St. John Fisher College faculty member Dr. Mark Rice, was named the winner of the 2016 Gintong Aklat (Golden Book) Award, in the category of social science. Winners of the award, regarded as one of the most prestigious book prizes in the Philippines, were announced on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Mark Rice

The Gintong Aklat Awards are biennial honors presented by the Book Development Association of the Philippines to book publishers in recognition of excellence in the Philippine publishing industry.

Rice, professor and chair of the American Studies Department at Fisher, was inspired to write the book after a two-year visit to the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1980s. That experience led Rice to pursue graduate work in American studies and to eventually research and write this book, which brings to life Dean Worcester, one of the most significant (but under examined) figures in the history of U.S. colonialism in the Philippines. Upon the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Worcester, a scientist who had traveled twice to the Philippines on zoological expeditions, established himself as one of America’s leading experts on the Southeast Asian country. Over a 14-year career as a member of the U.S. colonial regime, Worcester devoted much of his time and energy to traveling among and photographing non-Christian minority groups in the island. While many historians have examined American colonial photography in the Philippines, Rice’s book is the first lengthy treatment of Worcester’s role in shaping American perceptions of the country in the early twentieth century.

In her review of the book in the journal, History of Photography, Eleanor Hight noted that Rice’s book offers a “fascinating and often chilling study” of Worcester. “Rice skillfully unravels the complex process through which ethnology, racism, politics, and photography intersected to create Worcester’s ‘fantasy islands’,” she wrote.

Rice’s book, which was published by Ateneo de Manila University Press in 2015 (and published in the United States in 2014 by the University of Michigan Press), is also a finalist for the Philippines National Book Award, in the history category. The winner of that award will be announced in November.