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[Detail] U.S.S. Alert. Photographer - W H Jackson, 1901 or 1902

4) The Spanish-American War

Two hundred sixty United States sailors died off of the coast of Cuba on February 15, 1898, when the Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor. Relations between the U.S. and Spain were already tense over the debate of Spanish rule in Cuba. Despite the fact that the cause of the explosion could not be determined, many people in the U.S. held the Spanish government responsible. In April 1898, the U.S. proclaimed Cuba free from Spanish colonial rule and declared war on Spain.

The expansion of the U.S. Navy and public interest in the Spanish-American war prompted the Detroit Publishing Company to dedicate vast resources to documenting the conflict. A search on the phrase Spanish-American War produces images such as "The Wreck of the Maine" and scenes from the 1898 Battle of Guantanamo Bay in which the U.S. gained control of the area but lost numerous Marines. (The Marines' efforts are represented in images such as "Hoisting the Flag . . .," and "Graves of Marines killed in battle. . .") Other images document the end of the war in January 1899, with photographs such as "Spanish Troops Evacuating Havana." Additional information on the events surrounding the war is available in the Library of Congress presentation, The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War, while films relating to the conflict (including documentaries and recreations) are available in the American Memory collection, The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures.

  • What aspects of the war have the photographers chosen to depict? What other subjects could have been included in a documentation of this war?
  • How do photographs of the Spanish-American War compare to images from Selected Civil War Photographs? What might account for the differences in these photographs?
  • How do you think that the public might have responded to these photographs of the Spanish-American War?
  • How do these photographs compare to the motion pictures documenting the conflict?