Modern Marvels: Panama Canal (1993) - DVD/Video Review for History Teachers | Student Handouts
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Modern Marvels: Panama Canal (1993) > U.S. History > Growth and Transformation > Books and Films
Panama Canal (History Channel, 1994) Guide and Review for History Teachers Length: 44 minutes

Age appropriateness: History Channel's "Modern Marvels: Panama Canal" is not officially rated in the United States. It is safe for viewing by all ages. Its content is most appropriate for students in grades five and up who are learning about American imperialism at the turn of the last century.

Creators and stars: Andy Thomas, Bob Jaffe, Bruce Nash, Captain Roger Knight, George Muller, Jeff Scheftel, Joan Marie Ridge Degrummond, Larry Neukum, Mel A. Bishop, Robert Dill, Steven Tekosky, Ted Troll, Tim Busa

Accuracy: History Channel's "Modern Marvels: Panama Canal" provides a nice summary of the history of the Panama Canal, from the dreams of early Spanish explorers, through the work of the French, the construction under Theodore Roosevelt, the upheavals of the 1960s, and the maintenance of the canal today. Perhaps most interesting are the stories of Robert Dill (1889-1994), the last surviving recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Medal of Honor (awarded to those who worked on the construction of the Panama Canal for at least two years).

Review: "Modern Marvels: Panama Canal" is a great video to show in a classroom while studying the history of the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. It covers all of the main points--early efforts to dig a canal by the French, the revolution sparked by the United States in order to free the area from Colombian control, and the effort and expenditures required to build the canal. This documentary goes even further, describing conditions for workers during the Great Depression, the issues of segregation in the Canal Zone and Panamanian nationalism that led to riots in the 1960s, the continuing work to enlarge and maintain the canal, and the capabilities of the Panama Canal today. Best of all, the information is presented in a simple way that students as young as fifth-graders can understand (while the video is still interesting and informative enough to show to high school students).
Review and discussion questions: (1) Describe French efforts to build a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. (2) What precautions were taken to lessen the threats posed by tropical diseases? (3) Who was the first president to leave the United States while still in office? (4) What was life like for canal workers during the Great Depression? (5) How and why was the Panama Canal under threat during World War II? (6) Describe segregation in the Canal Zone. (7) Why did riots break out in 1964? (8) How and why has canal construction continued since the canal opened? (9) Do you believe that a modern government could (or would) undertake a similarly massive project today? Why or why not?

Vocabulary terms and names: Atlantic Ocean, Colombia, continental divide, Dr. William C. Gorgas, dynamite, engineering, enormous, excavation, Ferdinand de Lesseps, George Washington Goethals, Isthmus of Panama, John Frank Stevens, jungle, locks, malaria, mosquitoes, Pacific Ocean, Panama Pacific International Exposition, Panamax, quinine, rainfall, research, revolution, sanitation, shipping, technology, Theodore Roosevelt, treaty, tropical, vessels, yellow fever
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"Modern Marvels: Panama Canal" DVD/Video Review Publication Date for Citation Purposes: July 10, 2012