Investigating The

Spanish-American War


John F. Decker

Introduction | Task | Resources | Process | Evaluation | Conclusion


"It has been a splendid little war," John Hay wrote after the Spain acknowledged its defeat in 1898. Hay was the American ambassador to Great Britain and would serve as secretary of state under President McKinley and Roosevelt. The term, "splendid little war" soon became the best known description for the Spanish-American War, which brought America to world power. The phrase, "splendid little war" obscures the reality of the Spanish-American war. The Spanish forces were in fact, not so easily defeated, although there was plenty of incompetence on both sides.

Your assignment is to investigate the events of the Spanish-American war, examine the evidence, and decide for yourself whether the war was in fact, a splendid little war. Upon the conclusion of your investigation you will support your opinion by preparing a written report complete with references from your investigations.

The Task

Working in groups of three or four, divide up the task of investigating the factors and events surrounding the Spanish-American war including:

  • The underlying causes of the conflict (i.e. Cuban desire for independence and the efforts of Jose Marti).
  • The secondary causes of the war (i.e. the U.S. Sugar Tariff, activities of the Yellow Press, and the Concentration Camps established under the Spanish General, Valeriano Weyler).
  • The Trigger events for the Spanish-American War. (i.e. The De Lome Letter and the sinking of the Maine).
  • Events that took place in the Philippines (i.e. the orders of naval commander George Dewey and the battle at Manila Bay).
  • Events that took place in Cuba.
  • The results of the Spanish-American war and U.S. Foreign Policy.

 After your investigation and data gathering, prepare a report to support your thesis and position. You will have three class periods to gather information/data and one week to prepare you report. Enjoy your research!

Up to 10 points extra credit will be given for creativity (including such things as re-creation of newspaper articles, pictures, a chronology of events, a timeline, etc.)


There are a number of places you can find information on the World Wide Web that may insist you in your investigation and search for materials to complete the creative elements of your report.

  1. The course text will provide you with a survey and overview of the Spanish-American war. Use it to familiarize yourself with the various issues, events, names of important people, and places.
  2. On the World Wide Web, you'll find an Overview document that provides a good survey of the Spanish American War.
  3. In order to gain an understanding of when various events of the Spanish American War took place, you might want to view a chronology. This information may also be very helpful in creating a timeline of significant events that you might include in your report.
  4. In defining the underlying causes of the Spanish American War you might want to research information regarding the activities of General Valeriano Weyler and Jose Marti. Also, you should investigate Journalism and the War to better understand the impact and influence of the Yellow Press.
  5. In order to research specific information regarding military activities you should check sites on the War in Cuba, the War in the Philippines, and the War in Puerto Rico. You may also be interested in some pictures of the Spanish American war era battleships including a photo collection of the USS Maine. There is web sites with information on Admiral George Dewey and even a Picture of Admiral George Dewey on the deck of a battleship. Another site has information about Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and the famous Rough Riders.
  6. In order to gain a different perspective, you might want to read an Essay by David Trask on the Spanish American War and lessons from the Spanish American War including an essay by Mark Twain.

The Process

To accomplish the task, the learner should complete the following, basic steps:

  1. First, you'll be assigned to a team of 3 or 4 students. (Each team should select a 'lead' to coordinate the investigation/data gathering efforts).
  2. Conduct a 'brainstorming session' to discuss and establish the content of your report.
  3. Decide what aspects of the report are to be researched by the various team members (i.e. One member might want to research the underlying causes of the war while another member might be tasked with researching the secondary causes and the trigger events of the war).
  4. After all the information is complied you must decide how the report is to be presented. The recommended format is Introduction, Table of Contents, Overview, and Thesis (paragraph) Statement, the Body of the Report, the Conclusion, a Bibliography, and any Appendices that you choose to include.
  5. Decide on an organizing structure for your oral presentation. Each team member should be prepared to cover his or her area of research and expertise. Anything you can do to illuminate your presentation will be appreciated.


Your final report will be evaluated based on the following rubric:

  • Overall Aesthetics: This refers to the overall visual appeal of the report itself including presentation of any graphics, picture, an attractive cover, ant the type and font. (Up to 10 points)
  • Introduction: Refers to the scope and depth of the report and identifies the authors' position regarding John Hay quote, "a splendid little war." (Up to 10 points)
  • Table of Contents: Identifies the main elements of the report including references for pictures and diagrams. The main elements of the report should address the points described in the "Task" section. (Up to 5 points)
  • Body of the Report: Refers to how well the report supports the authors' thesis. Grading will be based on how the evidence supports the main thesis. Contributions by individual team members should be noted in the body of the report in order to receive the appropriate credit. (Up to 60 points)
  • Conclusion: Logical summation of the thesis that re-states and clarifies the authors' opinion. (Up to 5 points)
  • References: Complete bibliography of references in MLA format. (Up to 10 points)



Upon completion of your report, the team will present the evidence to the class. Individual teams will be expected to participate in a class discussion regarding the Spanish-American war. Your discussion should reflect the evidence complied in your report.

Last updated June 29, 1998

Based on a template from The Webquest Page.