Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

David Atkinson

Committee Chair

David Atkinson

Committee Member 1

Nancy Gabin

Committee Member 2

Harry Targ


Scholars have frequently referred to Latin America, and to Cuba in particular, as a "laboratory for empire" for the United States in reference to the experimentation with military occupation, political intervention, and financial manipulation that American actors practiced in this region during the early twentieth century. This thesis stretches the laboratory motif to include pleasure seeking as an additional channel through which American actors exerted influence on Cuba and as a critical driving force of U.S. imperial projects. Americans made use of their Cuban "laboratory for pleasure" as an uncivilized space in which they could evade the moral rubric of home and indulge in exotic pleasures while also insisting upon their own racial and civilizational superiority, thus allowing them to align pleasure seeking and the defense of civilization as mutually reinforcing goals.

Since the first century CE, scholars and statesmen have considered a healthy dose of "barbarian virtue" to be an effective antidote against indulgence in pleasure seeking and the moral and physical decay of "overcivilization". Observers across centuries expressed this idea, which was also employed by American politicians to lobby for and justify involvement in the Spanish-American War. After the conclusion of this "splendid

little war," the deeply-rooted understanding of the relationship between martial exercises of barbarian virtue against indulgence in pleasure quickly disaggregated and was turned inside out, with barbarian virtue being exercised in Cuba through sybaritic consumptive acts. In Cuba, Americans aligned pleasure seeking and the defense and advancement of civilization as goals that could be pursued in tandem. This shift had profound impacts on the development of Americanness by fostering the development of a distinct set of cultural forms and attitudes that envisioned the world beyond national borders as existing for the consumption and enjoyment of American citizens. In turn, such mentalities motivated and supported imperial patterns of interaction between the United States and other parts of the world.