This website provides excellent primary and secondary resources dealing with two regions of the world that are underrepresented on the Internet: the Philippines and Laos. The primary sources compromise more than 3,600 high-quality photographs separated into ten different collections. The secondary materials are short, scholarly articles by Alfred W. McCoy. The site is generally easy to navigate although some links are misleading.
The more than 3,000 photographs dealing with Laos were complied largely through the work of Joel M. Halpern, a professor of anthropology. These images primarily date to the 1950s and 60s and can be browsed as a whole or according to broad topics, such as ethnic groups, Buddhist monks, temples, celebrations, etc. Each of the images is meticulously cataloged and labeled. This provides the viewer a welcome degree of certainty in knowing exactly what the image depicts. A search function is provided and the detailed records that accompany each image make it likely that a word search will turn up appropriate results.
The 630 images from the Philippines have been organized into five separate groups according to the collection in which they were originally housed. This arrangement might have made the images difficult to search if it weren’t for the excellent search functions provided by the website. Each of the collections is relatively modest in size ranging from 30 to 249 images. So it is still possible to comfortably browse the entire collection. Unlike the images of Laos, the Philippine images date primarily from early in the last century. The majority of the images date to the early 1900s, but several depict subjects from as late as the 1940s. The subjects of these images range from images of war, religion, workplaces, and street scenes to general depictions of daily life.
There is an interesting collection of articles entitled “Orientalism of the Philippine Photograph: America Discovers the Philippine Islands.” The site does not provide any guidance for classroom projects based on these readings, but it is a simple matter to draw a connection between the written materials and the image collection. It would be a useful exercise to allow older students to consider the ways in which the composition of the photographs affects viewers’ reactions. Ideally this could be part of a larger discussion of U.S. imperialism in the region. For example, a posed photograph from the E. Murray Bruner Collection entitled “Dr. T. J. Miller with two Ifugaos” depicts an American man and two members of the Ifugao ethnic group from the Philippines. This photograph exhibits features typical of U.S. Imperialist photography. Specifically, it places the American man, who stands taller with a confident facial expression, in a position of power in relation to the others who are unclothed and have confused expressions. This is emphasized by the fact that the Ifugaos are positioned closer to the camera, which makes them appear far shorter than the American.
The site also includes interesting background information that provides insight into the motivations of the website’s designers. These links provide access to a mission statement, usage statistics, and basic copyright information. While some of this may not be of interest to casual viewers, they provide a wonderful model for responsible web design and help ensure that the site maintains a level of academic rigor.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Digital Collections page also has links to other related materials that focus on other regions of the world including Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and Iceland.