This article explores common themes between the Martian canal debate and the building of the Panama Canal. The focus is on the American period of canal construction in Panama beginning in 1904. The scope of the discussion ends with the Martian opposition of 1907. During this period, the Martian and Panamanian canal narratives intersected at points that reveal mutual values relating to the use of political rhetoric in science and the idealization of science and scientists. Some of those shared values include the dichotomy of old and new, the emphasis on technoscientific progress, and the relationship among wilderness, masculinity, and self-determination. The first section provides context for the larger canal debate. The second section discusses instances in which contemporary media considered the outcomes if Martians, in the forms of both laborers and engineers, were to assist humans in the building of the Panama Canal. By considering their intervention, Martians became idealized into the archetypes of the efficient worker and the objective expert. This section emphasizes a series of articles published in 1905–06 by the first chief engineer for the U.S. Isthmian Canal Commission, John F. Wallace (1852–1921). The third section further explores the political rhetoric of the canal debate by comparing the public identities of Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Percival Lowell (1855–1916), both champions of their respective canal intrigues. This comparison reveals the Martian canal debate as one steeped in Progressive Era political ideology as well as other sociopolitical norms. In conclusion, we are left with two versions of the scientific ideal—the objective, apolitical expert and the heroic scientist.
Research Article| September 01 2019
Building Canals from Panama to Mars: Technological Progress and Scientific Ideals
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (2019) 49 (4): 420–446.
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Emily Simpson; Building Canals from Panama to Mars: Technological Progress and Scientific Ideals. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 September 2019; 49 (4): 420–446. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2019.49.4.420
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