History Day

Have you heard of History Day? I have, but had you asked me about it prior to late 2009, my answer would have been ‘no’.  As a history enthusiast (and a museum, historic preservation, public history, archaeology, historic cemetery, etc. enthusiast) learning about History Day in grad school was sort of a let down.  Why?

National History Day is a “year-long academic program focused on historical research for 6th to 12th grade students” in which students create a project centered on a theme.  This year’s theme is “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events”.  Students pick a topic of their choosing that goes with this theme and create an exhibit, website, paper, documentary or performance (entering as an individual or as a group).  Think Science Fairs, but for History. Awesome!

For someone finding out about it in grad school, it was disappointing to know that I had missed out on the chance to participate as a student.  As students in my particular grad program, we had the chance to volunteer during our first year with registration, a door guard (everyone wants a peek at the competition), or as a time-keeper.  During our second year, we had the opportunity to judge entries.  I judged documentaries that year.

The following year, I found myself in Ohio, which is where History Day started in 1974.  I knew I had to participate again and once again I judged documentaries, but did run-off judging for exhibitions (only two people from each category can go to Nationals, so if there are multiple judging groups, a run-off is needed for the top two projects in each group–there is also an alternate chosen for Nationals).

I had thoroughly enjoyed my History Day experiences, so this year, living in my third state in four years, it was a no-brainer that I would want to do History Day again.  So I contacted those in charge of Rhode Island History Day and today I judged exhibits.  I am always so impressed by the creativity of the entrants and the enthusiasm they show, not to mention the quality!  To see so many of today’s young people interested in history is a wonderful thing.

There are still many states that have yet to hold their respective state competitions, so if History Day sounds like it would be a fun thing to judge, contact your state coordinator to find out how to get involved.

In future years, maybe you’ll see me in your state.  It’s now a goal of mine to get to all of the state competitions…only 47 left to go (plus DC).

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3 Responses to History Day

  1. I didn’t know about this either! I feel I’ve been cheated out of a childhood… 🙂

  2. Nick Sacco says:

    Great post! I too was completely left in the dark about History day growing up, and I also judged exhibits (grades 9-12) at the competition this year where I now live (Indianapolis). I was really encouraged to see so many students who were interested in history and doing great projects on interesting topics.

    Two things did concern me, however. (1.) A lot of students are not getting the proper instruction on how to interpret sources, particularly online sources. Many students cited websites like A&E.com in their bibliographies, and I think teachers need to receive better training on how to incorporate digital resources into their students research projects. (2.) Demographics. Downtown Indianapolis has a large minority population and many students that go to the Indianapolis Public School system. None of these students were at the History Day competition, even though they lived the closest to where the competition was being held. In fact, there were hardly any public schools, period. It makes me wonder whether the lack of public school/minority participation is related to genuine financial issues that prevent the students from participating, or whether it can be blamed on a lack of communication between competition organizers and schools.

    • I too noticed that some students have a difficulty with using online sources, even just in citing, and there are plenty of places to turn for that–seeing the website address only is not okay. Also, I tend to ask when judging, what was your most valuable source? Hearing “the internet” as a response…eek. I’m fine if the resource is a reliable website, not everyone can (or should) go to the Library of Congress physically for information. History Day isn’t a competition of money, although you can usually tell by the polish of a project who spent more, but once you get beyond the flashy-ness of it, the research is usually the great equalizer. I’ve seen wonderful entries win that are very homemade. I don’t necessarily think that it’s a money thing keeping students out of the competition. I’m not sure if History Day has fully saturated everywhere. There are some schools with teachers who champion it and you may find that all of the participants from one school all have the same history teacher even if there are 4 of them at that school, or you’ll see only one high school in the school district compete at all even though there are a hand full (or more). That’s definitely what I noticed in the three states where I’ve judged. Thanks for stopping by!

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