Why was overseas expansion controversial?
Fourth edition.

The jarring economic, technological, and social changes of the late 1890s compelled people in the United States to reexamine their national identity and their country’s role in the world. In the long term, war against Spain was one in a series of steps that led to an ever-increasing international role for the United States. Students recreate the public debate in the United States over what to do with Spain’s former colonies in a simulation set in the fall of 1898. By weighing the values underlying the policy choices at the end of the nineteenth century, students gain a better understanding of the historical context of our country’s current interactions with nations abroad.


The readings provide an overview of the economic, social, and political forces transforming the United States at the end of the 19th century within the context of the Age of Imperialism. As well as analyze the events that led to the Spanish-American War and recounts the military action in the Caribbean and the Philippines. An epilogue weighs the causes and consequences of the Filipino insurrection and assesses America’s record as an imperialist power.


America and the World in the 1890s

Students use primary sources to analyze the impact of late nineteenth century immigration on the U.S. national character and assess the forces contributing to the evolving U.S. self-image.

The African-American Community in the Age of Imperialism

Students explore the attitudes of the contemporary African-American community toward imperialism, racism, and the contributions of black soldiers

Identifying Values

Students read selections from the speeches of Theodore Roosevelt in order to analyze how the values of the 1890s shaped the policy decisions of the era.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Working cooperatively, student advocate for one of the three options the United States considered toward Spain's former colonies. Students draw upon primary sources and take into consideration the views of fictional townspeople to recreate this critical moment in history.

Critiquing "The White Man's Burden"

Students identify the main values expressed in Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" and several of the rebuttals against it, and investigate the relationship between poetic technique and political message.

Remembering the Maine

Students assess the political context surrounding the sinking of the Maine and weigh how new evidence should affect the historical narrative.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support in teaching the teaching the curriculum.


Beisner, Robert L. Twelve against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968). 310 pages.

Gardner, Lloyd C., ed. A Different Frontier: Selected Readings in the Foundations of American Economic Expansion (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1966). 190 pages.

Gatewood, Jr., Willard B. “Smoked Yankees” and the Struggle for Empire: Letters from Negro Soldiers, 1898-1902 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1971). 328 pages.

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000). 265 pages.

LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion 1860-1898 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1963). 417 pages.

Marks, George P., ed. The Black Press Views American Imperialism (1898-1900) (New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1971). 211 pages.

McDougall, Walter. Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997). 222 pages.

Rickover, H.G. How the Battleship Maine was Destroyed (Washington, D.C.: Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, 1976). 156 pages.

Stephanson, Anders. Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995). 129 pages.

Tompkins, E. Berkeley. Anti-Imperialism in the United States: The Great Debate 1890-1920 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970). 331 pages.

Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898 (New York: Macmillan, 1981). 624 pages.

Traxel, David. 1898: The Birth of the American Century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998). 365 pages.

Wolff, Leon. Little Brown Brother (New York: Doubleday, 1961). 366 pages.

Zimmermann, Warren. First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002). 562 pages.

All Things Considered, November 2, 2006 (audio)
A resource for teachers and students produced by Small Planet communications in conjunction with The History Channel.
A wealth of materials from the Library of Congress that include photographs, timelines, and essays.
Records, illustrations, and information from the U.S. military.
A PBS website associated with its film. Includes film transcript, multimedia and timeline information, and educational resources.
A New York Public Library reference site including multimedia, chronology, and historical interpretations.
Photos, maps, and history on the 1893 World's Fair
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