Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Conevery Bolton Valencius

Second Advisor

Bonnie Miller

Third Advisor

Joshua L. Reid


Throughout the nineteenth century, the island of Cuba was a fixture in the American imperial worldview. Cuban annexation was a recurrent theme in American political culture and foreign policy, intersecting with the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the expansion of American slavery, and the dream of establishing a "democratic empire" in the Caribbean. In political rhetoric, mass media, and travel writing, Cuba was portrayed as a place of abundant natural resources, healthy climate, and welcoming peoples. The idea that the United States would protect Cuba's seemingly pristine landscapes and restore them after decades of Spanish misrule was especially important for negotiating the threat of tropical diseases. Americans knew that yellow fever was endemic in Havana and in other Cuban cities where warm climate and poor sanitation infrastructure led to several outbreaks that plagued the circum-Caribbean and jeopardized the economic lifeways of the southern United States.

Interestingly, despite knowledge of tropical diseases, the island also played a role in American health and environmental consciousness. In particular, Cuba became important for the practice of health tourism, where wealthy urban Americans would visit certain environments to improve their bodily health. Some health travel writers in Cuba seemed to support annexation, but many did not. Instead, they emphasized that Cuba was an exotic, peripheral location with landscapes "unburdened" by industry, urbanization, and expansion. Moreover, many health tourists relied on the knowledge of Cuban doctors, criticized American development on the island, and presented images of Cuban society which undermined the ideologies and practices of American empire. Many scholars have described travel writers and tourists as classic examples of nationalist and/or imperialist mindsets. However, when the ideas of health and environment in travel literature are brought into focus, its relationship to American imperialism becomes far more complicated, revealing a variety of intercultural interactions and transnational connections that shaped both health consciousness and U.S.-Cuban relations in the second half of the nineteenth century. This thesis explores the paradoxical image of Cuba as a health destination and as a potential territorial acquisition that might strengthen the national body of the United States.


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