Skip PBS navigation bar, and jump to content.
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

spacer above content
Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

% The Massie Affair offers insights into topics in American history including Hawaiian history, race relations, Naval strategy, U.S. expansionism, foreign policy in the Pacific, the justice system and the promise of equal justice under the law, the role of the media in high-profile crime cases, 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 four categories: civics, history, economics, and geography. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


History | Geography | Economics | Civics

  1. You be the detective!
    Imagine that you and a partner are police detectives assigned to the Thalia Massie rape case. Working together, examine the Case File and use information from it, the film, and elsewhere on this website to prepare a chronology of the events during the night of the alleged assault. Then look for any contradictions or other problems in the testimony: Do any of the witnesses contradict each other, or themselves? What important details are missing, and how might you go about looking for them? Write up your conclusions -- what you know, what you don't know, and how you propose to obtain any missing information -- in a memo for your boss. Share these memos with the other "detective teams" in your class; which team did the best job of analyzing the evidence?

  2. America on trial?
    In 1931, the same year the Massie affair began, another celebrated court case thousands of miles away in Alabama raised similar issues concerning race, sex, and fairness. Read about the "Scottsboro boys" at the website of the American Experience film, "Scottsboro: An American Tragedy."

    Then read the voices from the Scottsboro trials and compare them to the attitudes and opinions about the Massie affair, as expressed in the film and the newspaper coverage of the Massie affair. What similarities and differences do you see with regard to the trials, the news coverage, and other factors?


History | Geography | Economics | Civics

  1. Hawai'i's strategic value.
    As this site's timeline shows, the United States gained full control of Hawai'i in 1893 but did not formally annex the islands until 1898, and construction of large-scale naval facilities at Pearl Harbor did not begin for another decade. Select one of the following and find out what impact it might have had on the U.S. decision to annex Hawai'i and then increase its military presence there: (a) the Spanish-American War; (b) Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan and his book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, (c) the imperialist views of politicians like Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Albert Beveridge, (d) changing U.S. relations with China and Japan.

  2. The global reach of the U.S. military.
    Learn about the U.S. military presence on Hawai'i and its effects on Hawaiians by reading about navy life in territorial Hawai'i and the interview with Haunani-Kay Trask. As the United States has become a truly global power, its military presence elsewhere in Asia (such as the Philippines and Okinawa) as well as other parts of the world (such as Saudi Arabia) has sometimes led to tensions with local residents and governments.

    To see how widespread the U.S. military presence is today, divide the class into three groups -- one each representing the army, navy/marines, and air force -- and examine the lists of overseas bases run by each branch of the armed services. Then, on a wall map of the world, have the groups mark each country that contains a U.S. base, as well as the number of bases in that country. In what areas of the world are U.S. bases most common? Least common?

    Finally, discuss what rules and policies might help ensure good relations between U.S. military personnel and local residents.


History | Geography | Economics | Civics

  1. Economic motives for annexation.
    Hold a mock TV news talk show on the issue of whether the United States annexed Hawai'i in order to exploit the islands for economic gain. The four guests on the show are: President Grover Cleveland, Sanford Dole, Queen Lili'uokalani and President William McKinley. Have volunteers play the part of these four guests; they should prepare for the show by researching their subject's views on this issue. The rest of the class should act as journalists; they should prepare by writing questions designed to draw out the differences in the four guests' views.

    When everyone has prepared, hold the talk show. Afterwards, ask students how the show might have affected their views on this issue if they had seen it on "live" on TV.

  2. A system tilted toward the rich?
    In your opinion, do the cases involving Grace Hubbard Fortescue and the men accused of assaulting Thalia Massie provide evidence that the judicial system favors wealthy people and discriminates against poor people? Do you believe that the U.S. judicial system today is tilted toward the rich?

    Using information from the film and the Web site, prepare a five-minute oral presentation that presents your analysis of the Massie affair as well as your general view on the fairness of the U.S. judicial system. Your presentation should include at least one piece of evidence from a present-day case that you believe supports your view, such as information about a current or recent trial.


History | Geography | Economics | Civics

  1. Protecting rape victims.
    During the Thalia Massie rape trial, lawyers for the defendants introduced evidence about her past and character that was intended to make jurors doubt her story. Also, a Japanese-language newspaper included Massie's name in its coverage of the trial, though other papers did not. Today, state laws (often called "rape shield laws") restrict the information about a rape victim's past that can be introduced in a trial, and many newspapers and other media outlets have a policy of not publishing rape victims' names.

    Imagine that the class is a commission that has been formed to review your state's (or your media outlet's) laws or rules on these matters and recommend possible changes. Divide the class into three groups. The first group should find out what your state's law is regarding the introduction of information about a victim's past in a rape trial and then write a brief memo that (a) outlines this policy, (b) explains the arguments for and against this policy, and (c) recommends that the policy either be retained or changed. The second group should find out the policy followed by a major newspaper, TV station, or radio station in your community with regard to the issue of publishing the names of rape victims and then write a memo similar to the one described above. The third group should review and discuss the memos produced by the first two groups and then vote on both issues.

  2. Jury nullification.
    As the film explains, Clarence Darrow encouraged jurors to acquit Grace Fortescue, even though she admitted her involvement in the murder of Joseph Kahahawai, on the basis of "jury nullification." This is the controversial theory that a jury has the power to declare a not-guilty verdict even if the defendant has broken the law.

    Imagine that you were one of the jurors in that case, and you were convinced that Kahahawai had participated in a sexual assault against Thalia Massie. You were also convinced that Fortescue was involved in Kahahawai's killing. Would you vote to acquit Fortescue, or convict her?

    Write a paragraph explaining how you would vote and why, then read it to the class. How did the class as a whole vote on this issue?


page created on 4.7.05 back to top
Site Navigation


The Massie Affair American Experience

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: