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Building the Panama Canal: A Controversial Symbol of American Might

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, September 20, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0718
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SS Ancon entering the Mira Flores lower locks, Panama Canal, 1914 (Library of Congress)

Building the Panama Canal early in the 20th century was either a bold, decisive diplomatic stroke that claimed America’s rightful place on the world stage or a crude display of arrogance and corruption. Either way, it was a project tailor-made for the take-charge mindset of Teddy Roosevelt who viewed its construction as the centerpiece of America’s growing global power. It remained controversial for three-quarters of a century, unleashing one of the most contentious foreign-policy debates in American history over ceding the canal to Panama.

Historian Ralph Nurnberger, who served on the staff of the Senate Committee that oversaw the Panama Canal treaties, examines the sweep of the canal saga and addresses such problematic issues as why the U.S. claimed the right to build a canal in another country, and why Panama was chosen.

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