Teaching Guide: Exploring the Building of the Panama Canal

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Panama Canal, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. According to the speech given by Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, which specific facts did advocates for the Nicaragua Canal use to make their case? Why, according to Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, are these ideas misguided?

  2. What does the 1905 political cartoon tell us about the politics behind Congressional approval of funds to build the Panama Canal?

  3. Using the items in this set as evidence, what are some of the challenges that construction workers faced on the Panama Canal?

  4. Using the items in this set as evidence, how did the construction of the Panama Canal impact the natural environment?

  5. How do the creators of the 1921 film reel want viewers to feel about the Panama Canal? To whom do they give credit? Compare and contrast this with the motivations and message of the 1914 political cartoon.

Classroom activities

Ask students to use the items in this set to write a week-long journal from the point of view of a construction worker on the Panama Canal. Require students to be specific about what kind of worker, which week of which year, and where the worker is from, or write these identities and ask students to do further research to flesh them out. Ask each student to write a brief entry for each day of the week describing the challenges and triumphs involved in building the Panama Canal.

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