Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Rise of American Sea Power and Its Impact on World War I

The Rise of American Sea Power and Its Impact on World War I

Pennsylvania U.S. History Standards Addressed

8.3.12A – Pennsylvania’s public schools shall teach, challenge and support every student to realize his or her maximum potential and to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to analyze cultural, economic, geographic, political and social relations to identify and evaluate the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to United States history from 1890 to the present.

8.3.12B – Pennsylvania’s public schools shall teach, challenge and support every student to realize his or her maximum potential and to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to analyze cultural, economic, geographic, political and social relations to identify and evaluate primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in United States history from 1890 to the present.

8.3.12C – Pennsylvania’s public schools shall teach, challenge and support every student to realize his or her maximum potential and to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to analyze cultural, economic, geographic, political and social relations to evaluate how continuity and change has influenced United States history from 1890 to the present.

8.3.12D – Pennsylvania’s public schools shall teach, challenge and support every student to realize his or her maximum potential and to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to analyze cultural, economic, geographic, political and social relations to identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in United States history from 1890 to the present.

Understand theories proposed by Arthur Thayer Mahan, dubbed by Sir John Keegan as “The most important American strategist of the 19th century”.

Understand how Mahan’s theories helped lead to the growth of the U.S. Navy, specifically to the construction of dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts that would match the British Navy in sea power.

Develop arguments as to why America’s use of sea power in World War I, though limited, gave evidence to the world of America’s position as a naval power.

Day 1
1. Students will begin the class by reading a short biographical piece on Alfred Thayer Mahan, focusing specifically on his writings and strategic views. See Article 2 and Article 3
2. Students will then work with a partner, summarizing Mahan’s views on the role that sea power on America’s imperialistic ambitions in the late 19th century, and the role that sea power would play in making America a world power. See Article 4 and Article 5
3. Students will next read a short biographical piece on Teddy Roosevelt’s role as a naval strategist, focusing both on his writings and on his role as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. See Article 6
4. For homework, students will compare and contrast the views of Mahan and Roosevelt, focusing on their shared view of the importance of an enhanced ocean fleet capable of operating around the globe.

Day 2
1. Students will focus on the lecture by John Laurer from the FPRI – Teacher Institute – World War One and the Rise of American Sea Power. Students will break into small groups to watch sections of the Laurer lecture.
2. The lecture will be broken into relevant sections. All students will watch the introduction (1:30-5:00) and then be broken into five groups as follows:
Group 1 – The Rise of the Rest (10:30-16:30).
Group 2 – Roosevelt, Mahan, and the Rise of American Sea Power (16:30 – 26:35).
Group 3 – America’s Black War Plan and WW I, 1914-16 (35:00-44:30).
Group 4 – The lead up to America’s involvement in World War I (44:30-50:15).
Group 5 – America and its Navy in World War I (50:15-55:40).
3. During the lecture, students will take notes on their part of the lecture. After they’ve watched their part of the lecture students will discuss their interpretations with their group, and complete the lecture summary worksheet (Appendix A) for their part of the lecture.
4. Students will read relevant sections of their text, The American Pageant, focusing on the growth of the US Navy in the early 1900’s and the role the U.S. Navy played in World War I.
5. Any work not completed will be completed for homework

Day 3
1. Each student group will present their summary and conclusions to the class on their particular section of the lecture. Students will focus specifically on their conclusions, and will take questions from other class members.
2. All students will then watch Laurer’s conclusions (55:40-58:45), and compare Laurer’s conclusions with their conclusions. Similarities and differences will be noted, and students will then write about differences between the two as a graded assignment.

1. One option for modification is to have ALL the students watch the relevant sections of Laurer’s presentation (1:30-5:00, 10:30-26:35, & 35:00-55:40) and then use the lecture summary worksheet (Appendix A) to assess the entire presentation. This interpretation could then be shared/compared with the rest of the class, and a class discussion could ensue.

2. Another option for modification is to still break students down into small groups, have everyone watch all the relevant of Laurer’s presentation, then complete the notes/interpretation sheet on just their section of the presentation for homework. Each group could then get together in class the next day and develop their summary and conclusions on their interpretation of their section of the Laurer presentation.

3. Another option for modification is for students to research group topics before watching the Maurer lecture rather than reading the articles selected. These topics could include Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy, Alfred Thayer Mahan and the Rise of American Sea Power, the growth of the German Navy in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, The Royal Navy in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, and America’s Road to WW I. Other topics may be chosen as selected by the teacher/students.

1. Have students research America’s naval performance in WW I and present their findings to the class. Research sites can include:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy_operations_during_World_War_I

https://www.naval-history.net/WW1NavyUS.htm

https://www.worldwar1.com/tgws/usnwwone.htm

https://www.wwvets.com/navy.html

2. Have students debate whether United States involvement in World War I was necessary, or whether the United Sates should have stayed neutral. Have students research either (or both) sides of the question on their own, and argue their positions in class.

3. Have students research the foreign policies of Presidents Taft and Wilson, and compare/contrast their policies to that of Theodore Roosevelt. Have students prepare a short research paper comparing the foreign policies, and how appropriate these policies were for America during each of these administrations.

Video from the 4/9-4/10 FPRI by John H. Maurer. https://www.fpri.org/multimedia/2016/04/world-war-one-rise-american-seapower/

Article on Alfred Thayer Mahan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Thayer_Mahan

Alfred Thayer Mahan quotes https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4090051.Alfred_Thayer_Mahan

Article from the Office of the Historian, US Department of State https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/mahan

Article from History Net – The US Navy’s Sea Change
https://www.historynet.com/the-u-s-navys-sea-change.htm

Read the Article from the Theodore Roosevelt Association – “The Naval Strategist”
https://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/site/c.elKSIdOWIiJ8H/b.8344389/k.75CD/The_Naval_Strategist.htm

Textbook – The American Pageant – 14th Edition. Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey. Wadsworth; New York, 2011.

Author
  • Anthony Dalasio
  • Towson University
Related History Institute
Grade Level
  • High School: 11, 12
Time Frame
  • 3 class periods

If you have any questions about this lesson plan, or if you wish to contact the author, please email us at [email protected]