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Student Work

Spanish-American War: Think Aloud 2

Watch Chuck assess the question of causes.
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"Do you feel like you know what happened to the Maine?" the interviewer asks. Chuck replies quickly and with some certainty, "yes." While the New York Journal’s headline showed the same certainty that Chuck does: The New York Times reported that the cause of the Maine’s explosion was still unknown. But this contrast (nor the information that either newspaper uses to make their point) does not cause Chuck to pause when confronted with this question. Why?

Chuck continues, telling the interviewer what happened to the Maine: "It was blown up by the Spanish because we then had a war with them. So if there was a Spanish-American War and this happened right before it, then this is probably what started it." Chuck's reasoning is not unique: we have seen other students use the same logic.

All that Chuck needs to establish what happened to the Maine is the knowledge of its place in the chronological sequence and a kind of backwards logic. The documents he has to work with (even if only two) have little effect on his assessment of cause. Although he has spent more than 10 minutes looking at the two newspaper accounts, and he finds The New York Times article easier to understand with more kinds of information, none of this seems to matter when it comes to determining what happened to the Maine.

Chuck is not unusual in his certainty, his understanding of historical cause, nor the strength of his ideas to persist even in the face of evidence that casts doubt upon them.

We have assembled the documents in this module to challenge these ideas. They have been carefully chosen to highlight some of the larger themes surrounding the Spanish-American War and complicate student notions that events have single causes and causes that most immediately precede an event always matter most. Throughout the module students are confronted with multiple causes of the war and asked to support their assertions with textual evidence.