Teaching 19th Century History With Star Trek

To Boldly Go…Into 19th Century America

The three episodes that deal with issues related to 19th Century America do not necessarily represent the best of the franchise.  While I actually really like “The Paradise Syndrome” and think that it can give us some very interesting insights into First Contact, I do know that most people don’t have a lot of respect for it.  On the other hand, I really don’t like “The Savage Curtain”, but I do appreciate that it allows for exploring issues surrounding race, especially as it evolved between the 19th and 20th centuries.   Finally, “Specter of the Gun” is just plain odd, but can be used to introduce the incidents that led up to the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

The Savage Curtain

Summary:  Kirk and his crew encounter Abraham Lincoln.

When to Watch:  When you’re studying the Civil War.


  • Telegraph
  • Illusion

Questions and Activities

  1. Describe the Union Army observation balloons.
  2. Uhura states that “in our century, we’ve learned not to fear words.”  While this may be true in the future, and may have been true when “Star Trek” was filmed in the 1960s; is it true today?
  3. What did Lincoln mean by “The war is forced upon us.  History repeats itself.”?
  4. “Overwhelm and devastate.  That’s the way to get power and to hold power.”  How does this quote apply to Grant and Sherman’s attitude toward the South during the Civil War?
  5. “Do you drink whiskey?” refers to what about character flaw in U. S. Grant?
  6. How does the conversation between Spock and Sarek reflect the choices faced by Christians concerning pacifism?

The Paradise Syndrome

Summary:  Kirk gets stranded, with amnesia, on a planet populated by Native Americans.

When to Watch:  Anytime you’re studying Native Americans

Questions and Activities

  1. Compare the look of the obelisk to pre-Columbian ruins found in South America.
  2. Given what you observe when they see the tribe across the lake, is Spock’s guess about what type of Indians they are accurate?
  3. Consider how Miramoni’s reaction to seeing Kirk for the first time might be similar to that of the aboriginal Americans to the first Europeans.  How might it be different?
  4. In what way do you think the legend of Pocahontas influenced the development of this story?
  5. Read more about traditional Native American marriage customs.
  6. Which Native American tribes used the cradle board to carry their babies?  Which used slings or other methods?


Does the forest and lake look familiar?  You may have seen it on episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Emergency,” or “The Waltons.”

Spectre of the Gun

Summary:  Aliens send Kirk and members of his crew to a replica of Tombstone, Arizona.

When to Watch:  When you are studying the Old West.


  • Six-shooter

Questions and Activities

  1. Look up the date shown on the newspaper, October 26, 1881.  Was it accurate?
  2. Why was Chekov chosen to portray Billy?
  3. Doctor McCoy went to the barbershop to get chemicals.  Why?

Susan Mathis has 1 husband and 3 children.  In addition to homeschooling, she also enjoys the benefits of FreeStuffandSamples.com, a great site for saving money.

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