Massachusetts Goes to Nationals
By Kathleen Barker, Education Department
Early on the morning of June 10, 2012, I found myself standing in a parking lot in Woburn, Mass., with dozens of bleary-eyed middle- and high-school students. Despite the early hour there was a touch of excitement in the air, for these talented young ladies and gentlemen were waiting for the buses that would take them to the National History Day (NHD) finals at the University of Maryland in College Park. The 2012 contest was the largest ever in NHD history, and while 2,794 students participated in this year’s national competition, that number represents only a fraction of the students who participated in National History Day during the 2011-2012 school year.
For the students gathered in College Park, the national competition represented the zenith of a process that began nearly nine months earlier. Soon after the 2012 theme, “Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History,” was announced, students began investigating potential topics, exploring local (and not-so-local) libraries and archives, and creating exhibits, performances, documentaries, websites, or papers. Students from across the United States consulted collections at the Massachusetts Historical Society for this year’s competition. The Library Reader Services staff fielded reference calls and emails on topics such as the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, Horace Mann and nineteenth-century school reform, Dorthea Dix, and the abolition of slavery.
I was fortunate enough to travel with the Massachusetts delegation to this year’s national competition. The festivities began on the evening of Sunday, June 10, with a rousing opening ceremony on the lawn at McKeldin Library. Imagine thousands of students, parents, and teachers cheering, chattering, and trading pins and you’ll have a good sense of what the opening ceremony was like. The competition got down to business on Monday morning, and while in College Park I had the opportunity to serve as a judge along with more than 300 other historians and other education professionals. Anyone who has ever judged at a history day competition can tell you what an amazing experience this is. I met with many talented and enthusiastic students over the course of the three-day competition. They taught me a great deal about topics as diverse as Levittown, the use of helicopters in the Vietnam War, and Nicola Tesla. Thanks to a very well illustrated project on Civil War hospitals, I also have new appreciation for modern medicine.
Alas, the contest did eventually come to end. After three days of intense but rewarding competition, winners were announced at a ceremony at the University’s Comcast Center on June 14, 2012. The event began with the best parade I’ve ever seen: a parade of participating students across the floor of the arena. I watched over 2,000 students circle the arena with everything from state flags to inflatable lobsters! Throughout the morning, dozens of students were singled out for awards and special prizes, and the boisterous crowd made sure that each winner was duly appreciated. Prizes were sponsored not only by NHD but by friends of history like the National Endowment for the Humanities, the History Channel, and the National World War II Museum. Several students from Massachusetts took home special prizes, but a special congratulations goes to our lone award winner, Chad Nowlan of Holyoke Catholic High School, who placed second in the Individual Performance category for his project, “From Revolution to Constitution, Shays’ Rebellion.” (You can find a complete list of winners on the NHD website.)
It takes a cast thousands to make History Day happen every year. Kudos to the national staff for making NHD a successful enterprise for more than 30 years! A special thanks to the Massachusetts History Day co-coordinators, Bill Szachowicz and Bob Jones, as well as all the members of the Massachusetts History Day board, who volunteer many hours to make History Day happen in Massachusetts. Thank you to all of the teachers, librarians, archivists, parents, and other mentors who shepherded students through the historical research process. Last, but certainly not least, a hearty congratulations to all of the students who participated in National History Day this year. These dedicated students gave up their evenings, weekends, and even school vacations to engage with the past. In the end, they are ALL winners!
If History Day sounds like tons of fun (and it is), learn more about the 2012-2013 contest theme, “Turning Points in History” at the NHD website. Visit the Massachusetts History Day website for information about participating in contests in the Commonwealth. Finally, come back to the MHS website in September 2012 to find out how the Society can help you with your History Day research.
| Published: Wednesday, 4 July, 2012, 8:00 AM
A Classroom with an Ocean View
By Kathleen Barker, Education Department
Summer is an exciting season for the MHS education department. Over the next three months, hundreds of teachers from nearly 40 states and the United Kingdom will visit the Society to take part in workshops on topics including the American Revolution, anti-slavery and abolition efforts, 19th-century immigration, and American imperialism. Many of these programs also include excursions to local landmarks like Faneuil Hall in the heart of Boston or the Old North Bridge in Concord. One particular workshop, however, will take participants to a stunning seaside setting: the new Thomas Jefferson Memorial Center at Coolidge Point in Manchester, Massachusetts.
In this workshop, participants will explore the challenges faced by the new nation in the years after the American Revolution. They will examine five sets of documents selected from the Society’s collections that shed light on key issues, including the rights and responsibilities of a new government, the needs of a diverse citizenry, slavery, women’s roles, and America’s relationship with the world. For example, using sources such as Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence and the correspondence generated by St. George Tucker’s Queries on Slavery in Massachusetts, teachers can analyze the ways in which America’s founding mothers and fathers attempted to negotiate the complex issue of slavery and its place in the new republic.
A $50 registration fee covers three lunches, one dinner, and all snacks. All materials, instruction, and admissions are included. Participants will receive 30 Professional Development Points, as well as the opportunity to earn graduate credit at Framingham State University. For more information, please contact the education department at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 646-0557.
| Published: Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00 PM
An Educational Summer @ MHS
More than 500 teachers from across the United States (and Dubai!) will return to school this fall equipped with classroom resources obtained through various workshops at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Educators, as well as a few curious adults, took part in fourteen different workshops offered at the MHS this summer. These lucky participants investigated documents related to a vast array of intriguing characters, events, and issues. Topics on offer included the dilemmas of colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson, daily life during the Siege of Boston, the ratification of the United States Constitution in Massachusetts, women in colonial Boston, and Irish American and African American participation in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Whenever possible, education programs at MHS provide educators with opportunities to explore landscapes related to the Society’s documents and artifacts. We were fortunate to take several field trips this summer to locales in Boston and beyond. Participants in our Thomas Hutchinson workshop spent a beautiful summer day exploring the Forbes House Museum and other Hutchinson memorabilia in Milton. (Pictured on left.) While learning about the Siege of Boston, other educators took a tour of Loyalist Cambridge with J.L. Bell that included a stop at Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters. Where better to see the Constitution in action than at a courthouse? Our Constitution workshop participants were able to discuss the ratification process in the elegant surroundings of Boston’s John Adams Courthouse, home of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. (Pictured on right.) Of course, not all of our excursions were land-based. In early August, twenty teachers from the Boston area participated in a workshop at Fort Warren on Georges Island, part of Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.
Although the majority of our teacher workshops take place in the summer months, the MHS offers occasional workshops throughout the academic year. For a list of upcoming programs specifically for teachers, visit our events calendar or contact the Education Department.
| Published: Wednesday, 31 August, 2011, 8:00 AM
The Civil War and Citizenship @ Fort Warren
On 13 August 2011, members of the Education Department spent a beautiful day on Georges Island, part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.
Our day began with an exploration of Fort Warren, a National Historic Landmark built between 1834 and 1860. Thanks to its strategic location overlooking the shipping channel into Boston’s inner harbor, the fort became a crucial part of Boston's coastal defense plan during the Civil War. Fort Warren also served as a recruiting and training camp for Massachusetts regiments of the Union Army, as well as a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. The first prisoners of war, including 155 political prisoners and over 600 military prisoners, arrived in October 1861. Perhaps the most famous Civil War prisoner held at Fort Warren was Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, who was held there from 25 May - 13 October 1865. Enthusiastic visitors can still take a peek into the cell occupied by Stephens during his stay on the island. Other interesting nooks and crannies to explore include the fort's bakery, the old hospital, and a powder magazine. Brave souls can also explore the dark arch (Bastion A), a former storage area and recreation hall full of mysterious rooms and dim corners best explored by flashlight!
In addition to roaming the fort, we also enjoyed a fantastic talk by Dr. Christian Samito, a practicing lawyer and a faculty member at Boston University School of Law, where he teaches courses on the legal history of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Education staff members have been working with Chris throughout the summer on a series of public programs and teacher workshops related to issues of citizenship and Civil War military service. During this particular talk, which was co-sponsored by the MHS, Chris discussed how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By serving in the Union Army, African Americans and Irish Americans demonstrated their loyalty to the United States and strengthened their American identity. While their experiences differed greatly, both groups cited their participation in Union efforts as they advocated for the expansion of citizenship rights after 1865. In the years following the war's end, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded on the basis of race, and Irish Americans helped to cement recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization. For more information about this topic, pick up a copy of Chris's recent book, Becoming American under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War Era, published by Cornell University Press.
To learn more about Boston and Fort Warren's role as a site of diplomatic intrigue, join MHS staff members on Georges Island at 1:45 P.M. on Saturday, September 17th, when we present "The Trent Affair." In the fall of 1861, Jefferson Davis sent diplomats James Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana to Europe seeking support and recognition for the Confederacy. Eluding the Union blockade, the Southerners reached Cuba, where they boarded a British mail steamer, the Trent, for passage across the Atlantic Ocean. On 8 November 1861, the ship was seized and its Confederate diplomats imprisoned at Fort Warren. MHS Education and Library staff members will discuss the details of the event; Mason, Slidell and prisoner life at Fort Warren; and the important role the Trent Affair played in Anglo-American relations. We hope to see you there!
This event will take place on Georges Island. For information about ferry tickets and schedules, please visit the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership website.
| Published: Friday, 19 August, 2011, 8:00 AM
Summer Fellowship Opportunities for K-12 Educators
Are you (or do you know) a K-12 educator in search of a fun and rewarding summer opportunity? The MHS is offering at least three fellowships to public and/or parochial schoolteachers and library media specialists during the summer of 2011. The fellowships carry a stipend of $4,000 for four weeks of on-site research at the MHS. Applications are welcome from any K-12 teacher or library media specialist who has a serious interest in using the collections at the MHS to prepare primary-source-based curricula, supported by documents and visual aids, in the fields of American history, world history, or English/language arts. For more information about teacher fellowship, including application guidelines, visit our Swensrud Teacher Fellowship webpage, or contact Kathleen Barker, Education Coordinator, at email@example.com or 617-646-0557.
Since 2001, the MHS has offered more than 50 fellowships to teachers representing school districts throughout Massachusetts and New England. These talented men and women have created projects on dozens of fascinating topics, including "Eighteenth-Century Broadsides," "Massachusetts Soldiers and the Civil War Experience," and "The Good Government Association and Political Reform in Early-Twentieth-Century Boston." Look here to view examples of curriculum projects created by former teacher fellows.
| Published: Wednesday, 19 January, 2011, 8:00 AM