Rizal Library celebrates 25th year in print of Rafael’s "Contracting Colonialism"
The Rizal Library held an afternoon of mini-lectures to celebrate the 25th year in print of the book Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society Under Early Spanish Rule by Dr. Vicente L. Rafael. Rafael is a Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle. He graduated magna cum laude from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1977, and received his Ph.D. in History from Cornell University in New York. Contracting Colonialism was based on Rafael’s doctoral thesis.
The book was originally published by Cornell University Press in 1988, and is now the history book written by a Filipino with the most citations from around the world. The book’s Philippine edition is published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press.
The lectures were held at the Rizal Library on September 26, 2013. Dr. Filomeno V. Aguilar, Jr., Dean of the School of Social Sciences, gave the opening remarks, and Dr. Armando M. Guidote, Jr., Associate Dean for Research and Creative Work, served as master of ceremonies that afternoon.
From thesis to e-book
First to speak was Dr. Vernon R. Totanes, Director of the Rizal Library, and a faculty member of the School of Social Sciences’ Department of History as well. In his talk “Contracting Colonialism: From Thesis to Book to Ebook, 1984-2013,” Totanes presented facts on the different forms and editions taken by the book.
The handwritten drafts and typewritten thesis submitted in 1984 were refined into the hardbound first edition published by Cornell University Press in 1988. Ateneo’s paperback edition followed that same year. Duke University Press came out with its own edition in 1993. Totanes traced the evolution of the book from these initial editions to succeeding printings, and to its latest form, the e-book, citing interesting facts about each of the book’s incarnations.
Of fish hooks and spider webs
Dr. Vincenz C. Serrano, Assistant Professor at the Department of English, was next with his talk “Fish Hooks and Spiders’ Webs: Approaching Contracting Colonialism as Essay.” Taking his cue from German critic Theodor Adorno’s proposition that “properly written texts are like spiders’ webs: tight, concentric, transparent, well-spun and firm,” Serrano examined the book’s main claim, argumentative arc, and key motifs.
He commented on the complexity, elegance, and effortlessness of the language in which it is written, and concluded that the “well-structured, properly written text”—which at times takes on the forms of teaching material, reflection guide, and prayer manual—has the ability to summon different kinds of readers.
The last talk was delivered by Dr. Ramon Guillermo, Associate Professor at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, University of the Philippines. In “Citing a Southeast Asian Classic: Citation Analysis of Contracting Colonialism,” Guillermo gave an overview of citation trends for the Rafael book, and confirmed the extent and nature of its extraordinary influence.
Since its publication, Contracting Colonialism has been widely cited in disciplines such as Philippine Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Translation Studies, Latin American Studies, Gender and Queer Studies, Postcolonial Studies. Guillermo concluded that on an international plane, the book is probably one of the most successful historical works by a Filipino author.
“It’s strange to think your book is being read.”
Following the talks by Totanes, Serrano, and Guillermo, Rafael delivered his own reflective response. Confessing to “just trying to survive grad school” at the time he wrote his doctoral thesis, he expressed surprise that the book has been in print for 25 years, and that it continues to be an influence on present-day intellectual life. “It’s strange to realize that people still appreciate its value, that it’s not obsolete yet.”
He then plunged into an inventory of what he called “conditions” that made the writing of the book possible. These he lumped into the category “the 1970s,” and included the presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos, the student movements, original Pilipino music or OPM, the Philippine art and literature scenes at the time, and the work of various social scientists and intellectuals. This special combination of conditions allowed this period to be, in Rafael’s words, “the last fruitful period in Philippine Studies.”
The puzzling aftermath
Offering a reflection on the post-EDSA period that has somehow failed to produce any works of global reach, Rafael was to end his remarks with a question of sorts.
“What has happened since then?” is the question on his mind as he tries to map this “strange period.” It is this absence of successors to Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution and Contracting Colonialism that for him makes the 25th anniversary of his book “profoundly satisfying,” yes, but “disturbing” as well.
Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society Under Early Spanish Rule by Dr. Vicente L. Rafael is available at the Ateneo de Manila University Press (www.ateneopress.org).
Text by Joanna Ruiz
Photographs by Jan Michael Villarosa/Rizal Library
Book cover courtesy of Ateneo de Manila University Press