Cover image for A Laughable Empire: The US Imagines the Pacific World, 1840–1890 By Todd Nathan Thompson

A Laughable Empire

The US Imagines the Pacific World, 1840–1890

Todd Nathan Thompson

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$104.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09504-2

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244 pages
6" × 9"
13 b&w illustrations
2023

Humor in America

A Laughable Empire

The US Imagines the Pacific World, 1840–1890

Todd Nathan Thompson

“A seminal work of meticulous, detailed, and documented scholarship, A Laughable Empire: The US Imagines the Pacific World, 1840-1890 is a unique, original, exceptionally well-organized, and impressively informative contribution to personal, professional, community, and academic library 19th Century American History & Culture collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.”

 

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
In the nineteenth-century United States, jokes, comic anecdotes, and bons mots about the Pacific Islands and Pacific Islanders tried to make the faraway and unfamiliar either understandable or completely incomprehensible (i.e., “other”) to American readers. A Laughable Empire examines this substantial archival corpus, attempting to make sense of nineteenth-century American humor about Hawaii and the rest of the Pacific world.

Todd Nathan Thompson collects and interprets these comic, sometimes racist depictions of Pacific culture in nineteenth-century American print culture. Drawing on an archive of almanac and periodical humor, sea yarns, jest books, and literary comedy, Thompson demonstrates how jokes and humor functioned sometimes in the service of and sometimes in resistance to US imperial ambitions. Thompson also includes Indigenous voices and jokes lampooning Americans and their customs to show how humor served as an important cultural contact zone between the United States and the Pacific world. He considers how nineteenth-century Americans and Pacific Islanders alike used humor to employ stereotypes or to question them, to “other” the unknown or to interrogate, laughingly, the process by which “othering” occurs and is disseminated.

Incisive and detailed, A Laughable Empire documents American humor about Pacific geography, food, dress, speech, and customs. Thompson sheds new light not only on nineteenth-century America’s imperial ambitions but also on its deep anxieties.

“A seminal work of meticulous, detailed, and documented scholarship, A Laughable Empire: The US Imagines the Pacific World, 1840-1890 is a unique, original, exceptionally well-organized, and impressively informative contribution to personal, professional, community, and academic library 19th Century American History & Culture collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.”

Todd Nathan Thompson is Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire and Contributing Editor to Studies in American Humor.

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgements

Introduction

1. The Backwoodsman Abroad: The Pacific Imperialism of Nineteenth-Century American Humor

2. Comic Currents: Polynesians in Periodicals

3. “Cheering for Ye, Cannibal”: The Politics of Boiled Missionaries

4. Collecting the Pacific: A Cabinet of Comic Curios

5. “Didn’t Our People Laugh?” Humor as Resistance

Conclusion

Appendix: Detailed Information on Reprinted Jokes

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction