Tino Boche

Süd-Dakota Nachrichten und Herold, 18 Apr. 1901

Mark Twain, der berühmte amerikanische Schriftsteller, hat in dem „North American Review“1 einen höchst interessanten Artikel unter dem Titel „To the Person sitting in Darkneß“2 puplizirt, der gegen den Imperialismus3 gerichtet ist. Jedermann, gleichviel was seine Ansichten über diesen Gegenstand sind, sollte den Artikel lesen. Die „Anti-Imperialistic League“4 von New York hat den Artikel in der Form einer kleinen Broschüre5 veröffentlicht und schickt dieselbe frei an Jedermann, der Postgeld einschickt. Man adressire: Edward W. Ordway, Secretary,6 150 Nassau Street, Room 1520, New York.Mark Twain, the famous American writer, has published a most interesting article in the “North American Review” under the title “To the Person sitting in Darkness”, which is directed against imperialism. Everyone, whatever his views on this subject, should read the article. The Anti-Imperialistic League of New York has published the article in the form of a small pamphlet and is sending it free to anyone who sends in postal money. Address it to: Edward W. Ordway, Secretary, 150 Nassau Street, Room 1520, New York.


Süd=Dakota Nachrichten und Herold [Sioux Falls, SD], 18 Apr. 1901, p. 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Lib. of Congress.


1 The North American Review, founded in 1815 is the oldest literary magazine in the US and still publishes (with an interruption in the 1940s) to this day (”History”). This periodical also published Mark Twain’s Chapters from My Autobiography, an unorthodox collection of anecdotes by the author between 1906 and 1907 as his only attempt to publish a work of this sort during his lifetime. The project ended inconclusively but was collected and published later, while also playing contributing to the first official Biography of Mark Twain, compiled and edited by The Mark Twain Project of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, more than 100 years later (Smith 2).

2 Mark Twain was described as an anti-imperialist who, after returning to New York in 1900, used his influence and literary reach to speak out frequently and forcefully against a wide range of injustices (Hill). “To the person Sitting in Darkness” was specifically aimed towards this goal by attacking a wide range of political actors, including but limited to the Germans, Russians, Christian missionaries and Western Imperialism in general. Interestingly enough Mark Twain was in favour of American involvement in Cuba. A version, as published in 1901, can be found here.

3 Imperialism is a widely used term. Within the context of the presented article, it is specifically tied to new American imperialism that sprouted after the United States emerged victorious out of the Spanish-American war, starting expansionist policies (Kramer 1-2). Especially the occupation of the Philippines fuelled the discussion about the right course of action (Cullinane 1-2). Many prominent intellectuals, including Marc Twain opposed these policies actively, including the famous author who was known to be staunchly anti-imperialist (Hill) and has written several satirical essays centring around the topic of imperialism.

4 The Anti-Imperialist League formed in 1898 as an answer to the increasingly expansionist foreign policies of the US. Its members were diverse, including Republicans, Democrats, economists and socialists all united in the feeling, that imperialism is the antithesis to American liberty (Cullinane 6). Mark Twain was a well-known member of the group until his death in 1910 who supported the League prominently with his social connections and writings (Hill). Eventually, the Anti-Imperialistic League was dissolved in 1920 (Cullinane 182) due to ongoing decline and a general shift in public opinion.

5 A transcribed version of Mark Twain’s “To the person sitting in Darkness” as distributed by the Anti-Imperialist League in New York can be found here.

6 Edward Warren Ordway, born in 1864 was a lawyer and political activist who served as secretary from 1899 to 1904 for the Anti-Imperialist League of New York. Ordway was also a part of the Filipino Progress Association, which he formed in 1905. He was concerned with the American involvement in the Philippines and wrote extensively on the topic. He died in 1958. (“Edward Warren Ordway papers”) Ordway exchanged at least five letters with Samuel L. Clemens between 1901 and 1905 according to the index of Ordway’s estate, an extensive collection of writings and letters, the Edward Warren Ordway Papers.



Imperialism, in this case specifically the New Imperialism, characterized as the period of colonial expansion by Western European powers, the United States, Russia and Japan. Emerging at the beginning of the 20th century, it is an intensely discussed topic in academics, politics and international relations not only back in Mark Twain’s days but still today. The actuality of this issue reached a boiling point in the US during the turn from the 19th to 20th century culminating in the Spanish-American war, as well as the Philippine–American War. Mark Twain wasn’t shy about forming an opinion about these contemporary American developments and published several, mostly satirical pieces such as “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” and “A Defence of General Funston”, criticizing the imperialist course of the US, as well as the (false) hero-worship, accompanying it. Mark Twain’s opinions, publications along with his membership within the Anti-Imperialist League of New York, where he became a vice president in February 1901, might provide a useful stepping stone for further research regarding imperialism in this time period in general and to also contemplate an often disregarded opinion and dissenting voice within American society. Furthermore, a focus on Mark Twain’s anti-imperialist views might provide an opportunity to discover a more often than not ignored facet of the political views of the author, as well as his active involvement and contributions. The relevance of this topic should by no means be underestimated. With over a century of American involvement all over the globe and more and more voices questioning the success and damages of these policies, a critical look back to the beginning of this New Imperialism might bring new results, especially considering the inputs of Mark Twain’s writings as his reasoning and point of view is as valid today as it used to be.

Research Process

The process to identify an appropriate article for this project was done in several steps. First, I utilised the resources provided by the website Chronicling America regarding German-language newspapers reporting about Mark Twain. To do that I specified these particular criteria within the search engine with the terms “Mark Twain” and “German” as a language setting for the results. I also tried to look for specific German-language newspapers paired with the author as a search term, but this didn’t result in any results of note despite the extra effort invested. After that, I was skimming the results to get an impression of the available newspapers, as well as, articles and their respective content. The most crucial step after getting familiar with the structure of the archive and search engine was to get more concrete results by setting a framework to further limit the search results. An obvious and useful parameter here was setting specific dates to look for content within this specific time frame. In my case, these were the years “1901 to 1905”, close to the end of Mark Twain’s life and creative work. With a now overseeable amount of articles at hand, I started to go through the results one by one, to filter simple advertisements just containing the name Mark Twain as well as all results depicting the word “Mark” in terms of the former German currency. While doing that, I eventually found an article mentioning Mark Twain in the context of Anti-Imperialism and after a short cross-checking about its viability in terms of sources and materials I settled for this specific article.

General Observations

The digital humanities are closely intertwined with online research and their corresponding tools. During this semester, particularly with all the limitations posed by the pandemic, this became obvious very fast. But while there were challenges, especially the limited accessibility of libraries, this new digital environment also provided chances to continue and even expand the research in new directions. Working almost exclusively online during this seminar dealing with Mark Twain, I identified three factors for me, heavily influencing the results and feasibility of doing research in an almost exclusively digital environment. Firstly, the identification of available digital tools is important, due to the sheer amount of provided opportunities within the web. Identifying trustworthy programs often results in a higher quality for the final project. Good examples here are the different translators, as some are better for individual words and their context (i.e Linguee) while others might be better suited to translate whole texts as “DeepL” the tool I used to help translate the newspaper article from German to English. The second factor is connected to the way on how to use these digital tools. The best archives when it comes to the research of historical newspapers, for example Chronicling America, won’t contribute many results if the user is unable to handle the search engine and to limit the results to a more manageable and informative amount. To acquire these skills practising is important, as well as tutorial videos that are almost always freely available to save time and get familiar with the respective tools. Lastly and maybe most important is the simple availability of needed data. A lot of digital collections are hidden behind subscriptions or paywalls, making it necessary to be affiliated with libraries and universities to have access to this knowledge, as access would otherwise be too expensive or difficult. Connected to this is also the fact that most collections, even when in a digital format, are almost never complete, as I found out while working with Chronicling America. While there is a huge amount of German-language newspapers available in this specific archive, there are almost no results connected to the big publications German-language publications from the East Coast, such as the New Yorker Staatszeitung, deposits of sources and knowledge which could have been surely helpful to answer the posed questions of the project.



Cullinane, Michael Patrick. Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism: 1898-1909. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Springer Link, https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1057%2F9781137002570.pdf

“Edward Warren Ordway papers 1893-1914 [bulk 1898-1906].” The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts, http://archives.nypl.org/mss/2300#bioghist. Accessed 31 March 2021.

Hill, Hamlin. “Samuel Langhorne Clemens.” American Realists and Naturalists, edited by Donald Pizer and Earl N. Harbert, Gale, 1982. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 12. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1200000934/LitRC?u=magde&sid=LitRC&xid=ea7ab452.

“History.” North American Review, https://northamericanreview.org/history. Accessed 31 March 2021.

Kramer, Paul A. The Blood of Government. Race, Empire the United States & the Philippines. The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Smith, Harriet Elinor, et al., editors. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2010.

Further Reading

– The different chapters from Mark Twains Autobiography are available at JSTOR

Twain, Mark. “Chapters from My Autobiography.” The North American Review, vol. 183, no. 598, 1906, pp. 321–330. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25105618.

– Other satirical Anti-Imperialist essays written by Marc Twain

Twain, Mark. “The Czar’s Soliloquy.” The North American Review, vol. 180, no. 580, 1905, pp. 321–326. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25105366.

Twain, Mark. “A Defence of General Funston.” The North American Review, vol. 174, no. 546, 1902, pp. 613–624. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25119240.

Twain, Mark. “To My Missionary Critics.” The North American Review, vol. 172, no. 533, 1901, pp. 520–534. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25105150.

– Other essays examining Marc Twain’s and his anti-imperialistic views

Caron, James E. “The Blessings of Civilization: Mark Twain’s Anti-Imperialism and the Annexation of the Hawai’ian Islands.” The Mark Twain Annual, no. 6, 2008, pp. 51–63. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41582240.

Durham, John M. “Mark Twain and Imperalism.” Revista De Letras, vol. 6, 1965, pp. 67–80. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27665935.

Gibson, William M. “Mark Twain and Howells: Anti-Imperialists.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 4, 1947, pp. 435–470. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/362055.

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