Medea E. Lamberti-Sanchez
Cuba and the Spanish American War
Cuba is the largest island of the West Indies Group; its size is equal to that of Pennsylvania. It is located south of Key West, Florida, at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico. It is mainly a mountainous region that includes several smaller islands.
During the late 1890s, The United States wanted to increase its role in global affairs. Theodore Roosevelt advocated for a strong presence in the world’s foreign policies and believed that America needed to be involved in policies that extended past its own boundary lines. His aggressive attitudes toward foreign policy led to new policies of intervention in the Pacific and South America. Roosevelt backed these policies with direct action that included the construction of the Panama Canal as well as fleets of warships that sailed throughout the waters. The Spanish American War placed America on the map of world powers. This event changed how America was viewed. At that time, Spain ruled over many countries including Cuba, and the war for freedom and independence swept through Latin America. By the year 1890, Cuba and Puerto Rico were the only islands left to be ruled by Spain, and the United States’s close proximity to both of these islands made them important for economic and military reasons. Americans invested in many Cuban products like sugar and tobacco, so therefore, American businesses had a strong presence.
Tensions mounted between Cubans and Spaniards as Cubans fought for independence, and by the 1890s, this conflict escalated. Cubans were treated badly, and many died from diseases, and hunger. When the United States received word of this, they were outraged and even more so, the newspapers inflamed these attitudes and members of Congress called for the intervention of the Americans. This was an effort for Cuba to win their independence. The United States was also concerned about the Americans living in Cuba in 1897, because their property was rioted. President McKinley, in 1898, sent the Battleship Maine into Cuba as a protective measure, but instead, the ship blew up in the Havana Harbor. The United States newspapers blamed the Cubans for the battleships demise, and Pulitzer and Hearst inflamed the event further with articles detailing the tragedy. In April of 1898, war begun. The Spanish forces were no match for the Americans. The Spanish lost their entire fleet, and more ships were sent to Manila Post where thousands of American troops were stationed there. Soon after, American warships blockaded Cuban waters and American military men landed on the shores. The Rough Riders were led by Roosevelt. Americans suffered from tropical diseases such as Yellow Fever, and more died from this disease then bullets. The war was highlighted by several battles, and in July, the Spanish government sued for peace. After the war, the decision to grant Cuban independence from Spain was granted, and at which time, Spain also “sold” the entire Philippines to the United States for 20 million dollars. Lastly, Spain issued the United States power over Puerto Rico and Guam in the South Pacific.
The Rise of the Independent Woman
The roles of men and women in the 1900’s changed drastically. Unfortunately, during the time period that the book discusses, 1900-1910, the roles of women and men were not discussed in detail. It was implied that the men dominated the economic and educational sphere and the women were expected to tend to the household, take care of the children and were often suppressed. The book offered a chance to meet the wives of the scientists, but did not invite the reader into their personal lives, or to learn very much about them. Students wanted to know why the women were not allowed to go to their husband’s funeral, or be a part of their social lives. It was assumed that the role of the woman was to be dependent upon her husband for money and social status. Although the book made it seem like the women were confined and restrained to a way of life that consisted mainly of housework, family obligations, and entertaining within the private sphere, the truth was that during this time period, the roles of women changed drastically. The spirit of the “new woman” evolved and contested the role of a male-dominated society. The term “new woman”
referred to independent women who have exerted control over every aspect of their lives including personal, economic, and social. The “new woman” was no longer dependent on her husband for her economic survival because she was presented with career opportunities and education that would foster her knowledge and push her to become more competitive in a male-dominated world. My students need to know that the roles of women were not confined to household duties. In conversations about the women in
The Secret of the Yellow Death
, they often ask about the women in the book, and want to know what their lives were like during this time period. They needed to be aware that the women saw themselves in a new way, one that exerted power and demanded respect in a world that was considered to be a “man’s world.” It was because of the spirit of the “new woman” that the social roles started changing and women were not left in the role that they were known for. Progress was being made.
The new woman that evolved between the 1890s and 1910s was a symbol of freedom and independence from the typical female role. Women, soon, expanded their roles as artists, writers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, and professors, and men had to adapt to the changes brought about by the new roles of the women. Students should recognize that the females were just as important in the story as the men were because they sought out independence from the male-dominated society and pushed the limits to which they were confined.
The Microscope and Germ Theory
The major scientific instrument that the scientists used throughout
The Secret of Yellow Death
was the microscope. In the 19th century, the improvements that were made to enhance medicine were immense. The microscope, the main instrument of choice, made such advancement that it allowed scientists to study cells and tissues more extensively. The evolution of the microscope was credited to three Dutch eyeglass makers, who invented the first practical microscope, but it wasn’t until later that an English philosopher, Robert Hooke, made the most significant improvement in its design and also introduced external light sources; however, the images he saw were blurry. Later, Leeuwenhoek introduced finer lenses which helped to magnify the images 275 times. He was the first person to see sperm, single-celled animals, and red-blood cells. He was nicknamed the “Father of Microbiology.” Since then, the microscope was defined further, so that the images can be magnified up to 2000 times, and use electrons and X-rays, instead of light. Matter was now viewed at an atomic level.
In addition to the microscope, the field of medicine advanced. when Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist, developed germ theory. Germ theory is defined “as the theory that infectious diseases are due to the agency of germs or microorganisms.” Germ theory proved to be a revolution in medicine because it expanded the lives of people, improved sanitary conditions, and improved and created new medicines. As a result, people knew what caused certain diseases and how they could be prevented. Most people learned how to cure infectious diseases simply by washing their hands and their surgical instruments more frequently before, during, and after a medical procedure.
Prior to germ theory, “the transmission of diseases was thought about from a different viewpoint. It was believed that one disease could change into another, or manifest itself differently in different people.”
Scientists studied and explained diseases without any awareness of disease causing bacteria, or microorganisms. They thought that “diseases did not result from action on the human body by a disease causing agent, but instead, by the individual’s interactions with the environment.”
It was also noted that “an infected person could spread the disease without showing any signs of the disease”
, like those patients in the
Secret of the Yellow Fever
book, while others were more likely to catch the germ rather quickly once exposed. The scientists in the book, tried to understand and find the cause of yellow fever through exposing their volunteers to unsanitary conditions before it was known that the female mosquito caused the disease. If it was not for the Germ Theory, the disease would not have been contained or controlled. Later, scientists developed vaccines for those living in areas where the disease was the most prominent, and have also improved medicines for those who have contracted the disease. Bug repellents have also been created for those people who live in areas that are inhabited by mosquito-borne illnesses.
During the discussion of the book, the students asked about what people did during their leisurely time, and I thought it might be interesting to mention the arts since the focus of my school is centered around the visual arts. My students were interested in what types of dance and music were popular, as well as what recreational activities were popular throughout the early 1900s. I thought it might be interesting to listen to “Alexander’s Ragtime Music” and analyze the song, and watch the dancers express themselves through ragtime music. I am also interested in showing the students a clip of
The Great Train Robbery,
released in 1903 to show the students what the moving picture looked like prior to our new technological advancements of the movie theatre, as we know it today. YouTube is a great resource for videos of this time period, and are great starting points for students to learn information from. Students can search for information regarding various forms of entertainment using search engines like Yahoo or Google. Lastly, I will focus on Amusement parks, because my students love going to them simply because of the rides like the ferris wheel and the rollercoaster. My students would love to see what the rides looked like and how they changed and developed over time, as well as the popular amusement park foods like the ice cream cone, or the hotdog. Amusement parks like Coney Island, St. Louis Fairgrounds, and Atlantic City are among all of the theme parks that should be covered. We will discuss the evolution of food like the popularity of the ice cream cone, or the hamburger, in addition, to the gigantic ferris wheel that thrilled thousands of people. I will use visual aids like pictures to illustrate how people looked, lived, and enjoyed the thrill of the amusement park.
Before the 1900’s, people watched live entertainment or made their own by sitting around the piano singing, but before long, recorded music took a life of its own. The phonograph played cylinder shaped discs, and music was becoming more refined. Jazz music and ragtime music flourished, and by 1911, Irving Berlin wrote a hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and became one of the most popular styles of dance during this decade. Vaudeville featured nonstop shows of singers, dancers, musicians, and actors. In addition to the changing sounds of music and theatre, the entertainment of this time period consisted of traveling shows and trolley parks. People rode ferris wheels, attended baseball games, band concerts, and the movies. People loved football, baseball, and boxing as we did, and the idea of going to sports outings was found to be exciting and very popular. In addition, people loved going to the movies just as we do today. The students would be fascinated to learn about the moving picture and the fact that theatres sprouted up across the country all through the 1900s. The lives of Americans changed drastically in the area of entertainment and technology. New inventions like the telephone, and the phonograph made life easier for all the people throughout the 1900s.