Synopses & Reviews
A groundbreaking history of the Panama Canal offers a revelatory workers-eye view of the momentous undertaking and shows how it launched the American century
The Panama Canal has long been celebrated as a triumph of American engineering and technology. In The Canal Builders, Julie Greene reveals that this emphasis obscures a far more remarkable element of the canalas constructionathe tens of thousands of workingmen and -women who traveled from around the world to build it. Drawing on research from around the globe, Greene explores the human dimensions of the Panama Canal story, revealing how it transformed perceptions of American empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.
For a project that would secure Americaas position as a leading player on the world stage, the Panama Canal had controversial beginnings. When President Theodore Roosevelt seized rights to a stretch of Panama soon after the country gained its independence, many Americans saw it as an act of scandalous land-grabbing. Yet Roosevelt believed the canal could profoundly strengthen American military and commercial power while appearing to be a benevolent project for the benefit of the world.
But first it had to be built. From 1904 to 1914, in one of the greatest labor mobilizations ever, working people traveled to Panama from all over the globeafrom farms and industrial towns in the United States, sugarcane plantations in the West Indies, and rocky fields in Spain and Italy. When they arrived, they faced harsh and inequitable conditions: labor unions were forbidden, workers were paid differently based on their race and nationalityawith the most dangerous jobs falling to West Indiansaand anyone not contributing to the project could be deported. Yet Greene reveals how canal workers and their families managed to resist government demands for efficiency at all costs, forcing many officials to revise their policies.
The Canal Builders recounts how the Panama Canal emerged as a positive symbol of American power and became a critical early step towards twentieth-century globalization. Yet by chronicling the contributions of canal workers from all over the world, Julie Greene also reminds us of the human dimensions of a project more commonly remembered for its engineering triumphs.
This groundbreaking history of the Panama Canal offers a revelatory workers' eye-view of the momentous undertaking and shows how it launched the American century.
A revelatory look at a momentous undertaking-from the workers' point of view
The Panama Canal has long been celebrated as a triumph of American engineering and ingenuity. In The Canal Builders, Julie Greene reveals that this emphasis has obscured a far more remarkable element of the historic enterprise: the tens of thousands of workingmen and workingwomen who traveled from all around the world to build it. Greene looks past the mythology surrounding the canal to expose the difficult working conditions and discriminatory policies involved in its construction. Drawing extensively on letters, memoirs, and government documents, the book chronicles both the struggles and the triumphs of the workers and their famiand#173;lies. Prodigiously researched and vividly told, The Canal Builders explores the human dimensions of one of the world's greatest labor mobilizations, and reveals how it launched America's twentieth-century empire.
About the Author
Julie Greene is a professor of history at the University of Maryland at College Park and the author of Pure and Simple Politics. She has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies.