Website Review

Trust Territory Photo Archives

Trust Territory Photo Archives contains 6,000 images selected from an archive of 52,000 photographs and slides documenting the American period in Micronesia between 1947 and 1988. It provides details on the Trust Territory Photograph Collection and links to information on the Trust Territories today, mostly in the form of government websites.

The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands comprises three major Micronesian archipelagoes in the Pacific Ocean. These groups of islands, the Marshalls, Carolines, and Marianas, came under the control of the United States as a United Nations (UN) strategic trusteeship following World War II. This was one of 11 trusteeships established across the world by the UN at this time covering areas once controlled by defeated powers. The Trust Territory is unusual within an international context because the transitional arrangement remained in effect until 1990. The territories remain strongly tied to the United States, with the islands of the Northern Marianas designated U.S. commonwealth territory, and the other three localities (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic Of Palau) in compacts of "free association" with the United States, which controls their defense.

The images in the collection are an extensive record of American views of Micronesian peoples, society, and culture and of the interaction between the United States and the Trust Territories. The photographs were mostly taken by those either employed by the government or closely associated with it. While the photographs are extremely diverse, a sense of the focus of the collection can be gained by the "Photo Gallery Displays." This presents nine broadly defined topics from the collection as a useful introduction to the material. They include themes such as "Parades," "Dancing," "Health/Hospitals," and "Architecture." The disadvantage of this function is the lack of any caption to identify or contextualize the photographs, rendering the collection of "Leaders," for example, largely meaningless for anyone not familiar with the politics of the region. The same photographs can be accessed through the search function, however.

The archive contains a large number of photographs of children. Searches of "boy" (94), "girl"(144), "child" (43), "children" (172), "infant" (2), "family" (26), "play" (7), and "school" (529). These results are indicative of good captioning and a well designed database. The images appear as thumbnails linked to a larger version with metadata, and even a means of adding user comments that must be accompanied by a name and/or e-mail address. The search results yielded photographs of children going about their normal lives with their families, in groups in the landscape, creating crafts, and participating in community or national activities.

Although the photographs are captioned and dated, these captions do not provide very much context. By comparing dates, settings, and the type of activity, these photographs of children document a transformation of individual and communal life under the influence of Americans. Images of a child at a well, shelling copra, your girls weaving, or a family preparing breadfruit seem to show a life that was closer to the period before contact. Other images show hospital and school buildings, girl scout troops, a home-made processions for visiting dignitaries and a general regimentation of communal life around nascent nationhood.

One striking difference among the photographs, which are identified with various islands, is the transition from traditional customs of dress for boys and girls to the wearing of European-style dresses and pants for boys. The archive includes many scenes of traditional line dancing in grass or wrapped fabric skirts, flowers and jewelry, in which young girls did not wear bodices. Other images show the girls performing similar dances wearing ruffled dresses with bodices, made from imported cotton fabrics. Girl Scout uniforms, nurses' attire, and formal European dress mark other images, especially of official scenes. The images show that children's dance and song performances were incorporated into national cultural displays, to which flag processions and other symbols were added.

Scholarly interest in the issue of imperialism with reference to the United States has paid less attention to the question of Micronesia than to other locations, such as the Philippines. The advantage of this site is that it provides extensive primary sources related to this issue. For students of world history it provides a visual record of cultural contact in a situation of quasi-colonialism that continued well into the 20th century.

In this regard, Robert Aldrich and John Connell's The Last Colonies 1 is a particularly useful companion to the site for teachers of world history interested in using it in this way. Aldrich and Connell situate Micronesia within a global discussion of territories formally dependent upon metropolitan powers. Given the relative unfamiliarity of many students with this topic and region, teachers may find the following resources useful: Gary Smith, Micronesia: Decolonisation and U.S. Military Interests in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands takes a geopolitical perspective and argues that U.S. control over the islands of Micronesia "was the strategic equivalent to the Soviet Union's control over Eastern Europe." 2 For Smith, local demands for self-determination were sacrificed to U.S. strategic and defense interests. Francis X. Hezel's The New Shape of Old Island Cultures: A Half Century of Social Change in Micronesia 3 explores social history more broadly, is focused on the same period as the site, and makes extensive use of the Photographic Archive.

1 Robert Aldrich and John Connell, The Last Colonies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

2 Gary Smith, Micronesia: Decolonisation and U.S. Military Interests in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Canberra: Peace Research Centre, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1991), 3.

3 Francis X. Hezel, The New Shape of Old Island Cultures: A Half Century of Social Change in Micronesia (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001).

How to Cite This Source

"Trust Territory Photo Archives," in Children and Youth in History, Item #453, (accessed August 10, 2021).

Trust Territory Photo Archives contains 6,000 images documenting the American period in Micronesia between 1947 and 1988. A large number include children.