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Staging Unincorporated Power: Richard Harding Davis and the Critique of Imperial News

  • Author(s): Trivedi, Nirmal
  • et al.
Abstract

This essay contextualizes the work of war correspondent Richard Harding Davis within an evolving “imperial news apparatus” that would culminate in his reporting of the Spanish-American War. Critics have conventionally framed Davis squarely within the imperial cause, associating him with his admirer Roosevelt and naval admiral Alfred T. Mahan. Contrary to readings of Davis as an apologist for US imperialism, Trivedi contends that Davis understood how US imperial power relied on an information apparatus to communicate to an increasingly media-conscious American public through culture, that is, via familiar narratives, symbols, and objects—what Trivedi calls “imperial news.” The essay follows Davis’s development from his fictional representation of the new war correspondent in “The Reporter Who Made Himself King” to his own war correspondence before and after the Spanish-American War as collected in the memoirs A Year from a Reporter’s Notebook (1897), Cuba in War Time (1897), and Notes of a War Correspondent (1912). Davis’s war correspondence and fictional work effectively stage US imperialism as “unincorporated power”: that is, as power reliant on a developing news-making apparatus that deploys particular discursive strategies to validate its political claims. This staging critiques strategies of US imperial sovereignty—specifically its “privatization of knowledge” and its promotion of the war correspondent as nothing more than a spectator and purveyor of massacres.

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