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Active Viewing: Savage Acts

This activity is designed to help students understand key ideas from the documentary film Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs, and Empire 1898-1904. The film is divided into short segments with suggested viewing strategies and questions to keep students focused.


  • Students will be able to define and provide examples of imperialism, nationalism, national interests, and World's Fairs during the period 1898-1904. 

  • Students will identify different multiple perspectives on U.S. expansion at the turn of the twentieth century. 


Step 1: Introduce the documentary Savage Acts and pass out copies of the Active Viewing of Savage Acts worksheet. 

Prepare students by explaining that there is some graphic imagery of battlefield scenes from the long war between the Philippines and the United States. 

Divide students into four groups. Assign each group one vocabulary term (Imperialism, National interests, Nationalism, World's Fairs) to listen for examples of and find images of as they watch the film. Before viewing, make sure that students understand the basic meaning of each term. 

Step 2: Play the first three chapters of Savage Acts: The Culture of Imperialism, The Forgotten War, and World's Fairs (0:00--6:13). After viewing, ask each group to share out what images they saw of their term. 

Step 3: Introduce the next set of clips: Philippines gains independence from Spain and the U.S. goes to war to annex them. Identify the Philippines on a map, making sure to note the relative distance between the United States, the Philippines, and Spain. Then, ask students to listen for who participated in the debates about U.S. overseas expansion. Also, warn students that the next section will have graphic battlefield images. Play the following chapters of Savage Acts: Conquest of the Philippines, Imperialist Debate, Update on the War (6:14-17:10).

Step 4: To each group, pass out the three text documents and the three images, each of which represents a different viewpoint on U.S. annexation of the Philippines. Tell students that they are to match each image to the text document that is most similar in viewpoint. Then ask students to circle one sentence from the text to use as a caption for the image to best represent the viewpoint of the pair. 

Step 5: Have students share out their pairs of image and text and what captions they chose and why. (It may be helpful to project images and texts as they are discussed.) Lead a discussion of national interests and nationalism as evidenced by the documents and cartoons.

Step 6: Play the last four chapters of Savage Acts: The Midway, Civil Rights and Empire, End of the War? (17:10--end of documentary). As students watch, they should listen for answers to the following question:

  • What was the U.S. trying to show off at the World's Fair of 1893?

Step 7: After viewing, ask students to respond to the listening prompt, then discuss:

  • What was the U.S. trying to show off at the World's Fair in 1893? Give examples from the film.

  • If the U.S. had a World's Fair today, what national achievements would it show off? 

Historical Context

U.S. overseas expansion at the turn of the century was not just the concern of government and business; it was the stuff of everyday life. Savage Acts tells the story of how the Philippine War and American domestic culture forged a new U.S. foreign policy. Soldiers' letters, world's fair exhibitions, early films, travel guides, and heroic monuments expressed the growing sense of national mission based on ideas of racial superiority. Bu the victory of imperialist policies as not inevitable; expansion and the way it was expressed in the daily life of the nation, sparked opposition both at home and abroad.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2011.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Active Viewing: Savage Acts,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 28, 2023,

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