A Laughable Empire: The Us Imagines the Pacific World, 1840-1890 (Hardcover)

A Laughable Empire: The Us Imagines the Pacific World, 1840-1890 By Todd Nathan Thompson Cover Image
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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 Hawai'i 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.

About the Author

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.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780271095042
ISBN-10: 0271095040
Publisher: Penn State University Press
Publication Date: April 25th, 2023
Pages: 244
Language: English