TAH/Primary Source: The U.S. and the World (Group 10: Three Resources)

Three resources for teachers from Group 10 

Michael Maloney, Kathleen Lopez, Caleb Hand, Michael DeVincenzi, Robert DeLossa

Resource Name:  A People’s History of American Empire


Resource Description:

Viggo Mortensen narrates a brief video of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of American Empire.” Zinn follows his own history through the second half of the 20th Century and shows how America grew its Empire starting right from the post-Revolutionary period to the modern era. He focuses on Manifest Destiny and then moves on to our overseas expansion, especially in the Pacific.



Classroom Uses/Applications:

  • Use during American Imperialism chapter in USII:
    • This could be an introduction to the chapter to show that even before the late 19th Century, America was very much about expansion and it didn’t end with the coming 20th Century.
  • Use as an end of the year wrap up/final study video:
    • Show the video to review the year’s different topics of American domination.
  • Students could watch the video and choose one of the areas that Zinn mentions and research how America was involved, what years of involvement, and what was the result.

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Resource Name: Ping Pong Diplomacy


Resource Description: This is a video provided by the USC US-China institute.  It is primarily an interview with Zhuang Zedong, who in 1971 had already won three world table tennis championships.  When China, conscious of its international recognition, sent its team to Japan to compete, Zhuang made an unlikely connection with an American player.  The apparent friendship was covered intensely by the international press and pushed China to make a decision with regard to its US position.   Chairman Mao decided to invite the US Ping Pong team to China and this ‘Ping Pong Diplomacy’ partially paved the way for Nixon’s subsequent visits and a more positive relationship between the two countries.



Classroom/Uses Applications:


  • This video would fit into a Unit on détente and Nixon’s foreign policy
    • Fits into idea of internationalism
    • Shows the importance of culture and sports in foreign policy
  • could discuss the significance of ‘Ping Pong Diplomacy’ and decide what impact it had on US Foreign Policy
  • This could be coupled with the scene from Forrest Gump which could help explain why Ping Pong made it in to a film attempting to tie together key events of the time
  • Students may also be encouraged to discuss the notion of “an ordinary but essential event”
    • Do events like this happen today?
    • What would be some examples?
    • Does this happen every day, with the rise of social media and a generally ‘smaller’ world?
  • Video is 19 minutes long and subtitled
  • Teachers may need to pick and choose parts of the interview to show if worried about it holding attention for nearly 20 minutes

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Resource Name: Vowell, Sarah. Unfamiliar Fishes. New York: Riverhead, 2011. 238 pp. bibliography.


Source: Book available from multiple sources, including the Primary Source Library (996.9 VOW / barcode T 9641).


Synopsis: Unfamiliar Fish is a fun read by an author whom students would recognize as the voice of  Violet Parr from the Pixar film The Incredibles. Wry, witty, and sardonic, Sarah Vowell’s book is an almost stream-of-conscious meditation on the American missionary (read Saxon/White) conquest of Hawaii that lead to the overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893 and the annexation of Hawaii by the United States under President McKinley in 1898.  However, because it is very much (dis)organized along a stream-of-consciousness principle -- which is to say that the narrative threads sometimes would be hard to follow for less agile readers, with topical shifts that make sense only later, or presupposing previous knowledge of the subject -- this would be a tricky book to integrate into most classrooms. Because of the inherent format of the narrative (which clearly is very oral/declamatory in its inception), there are few small sections that can be easily excerpted to be worked through by students during a class period.

Unfamiliar Fish  would be a very good book club selection or extra-credit assignment for an ambitious student, since the writing is very present, funny, irreverent, and insightful. Vowell, clearly has done a lot of research and has masterful insight into the historical facts and the emotional realia of native peoples who feel they have been cheated out of their birthright by American Saxon/European imperialism accompanied by -- and masked by -- Christian missionary work. Another characteristic of the book is that she makes historical reality feel very present both through temporal jumps back and forth, from her discussions with present-day Hawaiian guides and historians, to her suppositions about the reality, thoughts, and conversations of historical Hawaiians and Europeans. While tracing the path by which Hawaii became the target of New England missionaries in the early 19th century, Vowell takes side trips into the Second Awakening, the Christianization and fate of the Cherokee (from which she is partially descended), differences between Christianity and native Hawaiian religion, Hawaii’s feudal structure and unification, the legality of the annexation, the contemporary anti-annexation movement, and much more. This is a very “context-y” book.


Vowell’s book veers between two competing outcomes of the annexation of Hawaii. On the one hand, a constitutionally monarchy was illegitimately ended and a native people largely were disenfranchised of their patrimony. Vowell wears her heart on her sleeve. On the other hand, a unique multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society emerged that embodies the best qualities of many peoples from around the globe. Vowell hopscotches back and forth across the divide of that ironic dichotomy.


Classroom/Uses Applications:


·      The first part of the book opens with an extended metaphor based on the ubiquitous Hawaiian “national dish” Plate Lunch. Vowell has turned this section, which contains many of the themes of the book, into a video that can be used in the classroom as a launch devise to stimulate discussion about the after-effects of (Saxon) American missionary imperialism, the legitimacy of the annexation of Hawaii, and the new sorts of social communities that were created by America’s expansion into Hawaii and the subsequent social mixing that occurred there:

  • Video is under 3:30 and so can be shown in its entirety at the beginning of class.
    • It raises issues of American imperial expansion in 1898, as well as the legitimacy of the overthrow of Lili‘uokalani in 1893.
    • It can serve to stimulate questions about how America evolved as a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society following that expansion. Hawaii is a microcosm of the evolving multi-ethnic society on the Mainland following the New Immigration from the 1880s forward.
    • It also can stimulate discussion about how President Obama embodies many of the realities and contradictions of this history.
  • Vowell also refers to an illustration in the early part of the book that shows (Saxon) American attitudes toward the “Class of 1898,” that is, the new acquisitions that the U.S. gained because of the annexation of Hawaii and the Spanish American War. This illustration can be used for group discussion (her discussion is on pp. 5-6):
    • What does this cartoon reveal about mainstream white American attitudes toward the new lands and peoples acquired during and after 1898?
    • Do you have any sense of how white Americans saw themselves as they engaged these new lands?
    • Using information in the cartoon, make an educated guess about what you think the U.S. will do in these new lands now that they have them.

[Figures include the Philippines’ Emilio Aguinaldo as an infantilized dunce sulking in the corner; Cuban guerillas and ex-patriots fighting and failing to fall into line under U.S. tutelage, despite the “proper” example of Gen. Máximo Gómez y Báez, commander of Cuban forces, who quietly removed himself from politics after 1898; and the “girls,” Hawaii and Puerto Rico, both of whom are quietly reading, as they should.]

  • Finally, Vowell mentions Lili‘uokalani’s famous song “Aloha oe” that the Queen wrote in 1878 more than a decade before she was deposed. However, in popular memory, it has been linked to her removal from the throne and loss of the Hawaiian nation. Many sources continue to state erroneously that she wrote it while she was under house arrest. After students listen to it below and then read the lyrics and translation here, they likely will understand why.  This version is a very early, 1910 recording, made while Lili‘uokalani was still alive.
    • Have students write a brief diary entry as Lili‘uokalani, expressing her thoughts about having been deposed and what she would want for the Hawaiian people and the whites living in the Islands. For further information, they can look here and here.
    • This song is now a very popular song not just for Hawaiians. Have students discuss how their perception of the song changes once they now the context of the woman who wrote it and the history of the land in which it was written. Do they think that it is fair to re-imagine it as a farewell song between the Queen and her realm, or is that stretching the actual historical facts too far?

[Material above © the respective authors, but may be used by educators freely as long as the authors and originating project are credited.]

All material, unless otherwise noted © 2009-2012, Robert A. DeLossa