Organized Panel Session
In 1928, the Bureau of Science in Manila published Distribution of Life in the Philippines after over two decades of examining the “whole subject of the origin and relationships of life” in the archipelago. The colony-based scientists who authored the 320-page tome suggested a rethinking of the Philippine position in the Wallacean debate by claiming that the main portion of the archipelago contained biota from both the Asian and Australian sides of the Wallace Line. They argued that the Philippines provided a unique site in which to understand the Wallacean geography as “a transition zone, rather than a simple separating line” between Sundaland and Papualand. This paper examines the role of colonialism in the making of Philippine biological identity. It particularly looks into the American-instituted Bureau of Science and the ways in which it created a discursive authority about the Philippine natural environment. Through a close reading of Distribution of Life and other publications of the Bureau, the paper interrogates how colonial scientists attempted to redefine Philippine identity beyond the political and cultural markers by comparing its botanical and zoological geographies with Southeast Asian neighbors while rendering scientific exigency to its national boundaries. I argue that the publications did not only structure the imperial vision of American scientists but also furnished a framework for a “national” flora and fauna that distinguished the Philippines as a biologically separate, coherent territory.