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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

The Great Eastern The Great Transatlantic Cable offers insights into topics in American history including communications history, U.S.-British relations, entrepreneurs and enterprise, marine science, the growth of the global economy, and more. Use the film or this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: civics, history, economics, and geography. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. "Courage, energy, and perseverance"
    As the film shows, one of Cyrus Field's greatest strengths was his refusal to lose confidence in the face of repeated disappointments. Review the timeline of the transatlantic cable and find five instances during the transatlantic cable project in which Field faced failure for technical or financial reasons. Then write the entries that Field might have made in his daily journal on these five occasions. The entries should show why Field was able to remain confident and determined despite the series of setbacks.

  2. New words for a new age
    Read about how the cable helped create a scientific vocabulary. In recent decades, the emergence of computers and the Internet has created the need for a new vocabulary to describe these new technologies. Working with a partner, list as many terms as you can that derive from computers or the Internet. List the terms on the board, and see which group can come up with the greatest number.


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. Private funds for public goods
    Read profiles of Cyrus Field and his Cable Cabinet. Then take the Online Poll, which asks whether you would have been willing to invest in Field's transatlantic cable project.

    The project's vast scale and repeated failures made financing an ongoing problem for Field and his associates. Do you think the U.S. and British governments should have paid the full cost of the project in recognition of its importance to both countries? Also, recently, the issue of public versus private financing has arisen in quite a different context: the move by the Montreal Expos baseball team to Washington, D.C. Washington residents have been split on whether public funds should be used to help build a park for the team.

    In an essay of 500 words, give your own view on whether public funds should have been used for either or both of these two projects, and why. If you favor public funding in one case but not the other, be sure to explain why your answers differ.

  2. Robber barons or captains of industry?
    Read about the Committee of Inquiry and news reporting on the cable. One reason why some people suspected fraud after the 1858 failure of the transatlantic cable may have been that in the largely unregulated economy of that era, some businessmen did commit fraud, while others used legal but unsavory business tactics.

    Out of America's industrial revolution arose a small group of businessmen who achieved unprecedented wealth and power in the decades following the Civil War. Some people hailed these men as "captains of industry" for their contribution to the country's economic growth; others condemned them as "robber barons" who cheated their rivals and the public.

    Select one of the following persons: Andrew Carnegie, Jay Cooke, Jim Fisk, Henry Frick, Jay Gould, Edward Harriman, Jim Hill, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Leland Stanford, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Prepare a one-page biographical fact sheet about the person that lists his birth and death dates, how he got his start in business, how he eventually became wealthy, his accomplishments in business, and what reputation he had as a businessman. Include a photograph if possible. At the bottom of each fact sheet, give your judgment on whether this person was a captain of industry, a robber baron, or both. Circulate the fact sheets among the class: how many captains of industry did you find, and how many robber barons?


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. A force for peace?
    Read one magazine's opinion on the cable, and an account of newspaper reporting on the cable. Supporters of the transatlantic cable hoped it would promote international peace and harmony by improving contacts among peoples. Similar hopes have been expressed about other advances in communication. Working with a partner, explore this issue by examining one of the following topics:

    • Find out how both sides in World War I attempted to gain support from the United States by influencing American opinion. When war was declared in 1914, one of Britain's first acts was to cut the undersea telegraph cables that connected Germany with North America; this made it much harder for German propaganda to reach the United States. Britain and France, meanwhile, used their undersea cables to transmit large amounts of propaganda to the United States. Do you think these efforts played a role in the U.S. decision to enter the war on the British and French side in 1917?

    • Read an account of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. What role did communication play in enabling the United States and the Soviet Union to resolve that crisis without war? How might events have turned out if the American and Soviet leaders had not been able to communicate with each other quickly?

    • Examine the issue of whether modern methods of communication, such as the Internet and satellite television, can help improve relations between the United States and Muslim countries and/or help win the global war on terrorism. Is communication part of the solution to these problems, or part of the problem itself? Support your conclusions with specific examples.

  2. The shrinking world
    The transatlantic cable was only one of several developments in the latter part of the 1800s and the early part of the 1900s that suggested the world was becoming more united. Yet the outbreak of World War I in 1914 demonstrated that many divisions still remained. Today too, there are signs both of greater connections among peoples and of stark divisions.

    Divide the class into two groups. The first group should prepare a timeline that lists the completion of the transatlantic cable and the following developments of the 1865-1914 era (listed here in alphabetical order): Brooklyn Bridge opens, Germany is united, Italy is united, Panama Canal opens, Suez Canal opens, telephone invented, transcontinental railroad completed across United States, U.S. Civil War ends. Each entry should give both the year of the event and a brief description of how it relates to the theme of people coming together.

    The second group should prepare a timeline of events from 1980 to the present that lists recent technological, economic, and political developments that suggest greater world unity (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall) on one side of the timeline, and developments suggesting continuing division (such as the violent breakup of Yugoslavia and the 9/11 terrorist attacks) on the other.

    Post the two timelines on the wall and have the class review them. Then discuss as a class: Is it possible for the world to be growing more united and more divided at the same time? Which force, in your opinion, will be stronger over the long run?


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. What else is down there?
    Explore Science Expo 1870, especially the section entitled "Mysteries of the Deep," to learn about what scientists knew in the mid-19th century. Then, working together as a class, find out about the environment deep in the North Atlantic. For example: What kinds of plants and animals can survive at those extreme depths? Is the ocean bottom rocky or smooth? What kinds of shipwrecks or other human-made objects have come to rest on the ocean floor? What is the temperature of the water? Does any light reach the ocean floor? When you have assembled this information, prepare a multimedia presentation that incorporates words, pictures and/or moving images, and music.

  2. Mapping the route.
    On a blank map, label the following locations related to the transatlantic cable: Cabot Strait, Canada, Great Britain, Heart's Content, Ireland, Irish Sea, London, New York City, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, United States. Now draw a line showing the cable's approximate route. Why was that route chosen?

page created on 11.30.04
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