Triumph and Tragedy in History
By Kate Melchior, Education
School has started, which means that it is time to start brainstorming for this year’s National History Day projects! Each year National History Day selects a theme that is intentionally broad enough so that students can select topics from anywhere and any time in history. The theme gives students a lens through which they will gain a deeper understanding of history beyond facts and dates, and pushes them to think about perspective, context, and broader impact of historical events.
The 2019 theme has been announced as “Triumph and Tragedy in History.” While this theme sounds straightforward at first, it challenges students and teachers alike to think about the true meaning of both words in a historical context. National History Day advises students to begin with the definition of both words: according to Merriam Webster, the definition of triumph is “a victory or conquest by or as if by military force, or a notable success,” while tragedy is defined a “disastrous event.” While students do not need to necessarily include both triumph and tragedy in their work, many topics will end up including both: a military triumph, for example, might be defined as a tragedy by the losing side. NHD then poses the following questions for students starting to select their topics:
“Can one person’s triumph be another’s tragedy? Can the same person or group suffer from tragedy and triumph at the same time? How does one ultimately triumph after tragedy? Can triumph lead to tragedy?”
The Massachusetts History Day affiliate recently held an Intro to Mass History Day teacher workshop for educators from BPS, Lynn, and other schools in the Boston area. To put themselves in their students’ shoes, teachers built upon NHD’s questions about the meaning of “Triumph and Tragedy” and brainstormed their own questions (see image). Some of their questions included:
- Can war ever be a triumph? Is it always a tragedy?
- How long does triumph last in history?
- Does triumph always equal tragedy for someone else?
- Do people learn from tragedy? Can that lesson be a triumph?
- Can reform be both triumph and tragedy?
- Can whether something is thought of as a triumph or tragedy change through history? Does it depend on who remembers it?
Portrait of Elizabeth Freeman, 1811.
Along with many heritage organizations around the country, the MHS Center for the Teaching of History thought about how the NHD theme connects to our own collections at MHS. We set up a CTH Theme Page with ideas about topics, links to collections, and intriguing objects from our archives that might serve as a launching point for student research into triumph and tragedy. Suggested topics include early Boston smallpox inoculations, Massachusetts women in WWI, Boston marriages and LGBTQ+ history, Wampanoag and English settler interactions, and Elizabeth Freeman’s suit for freedom from slavery.
Henry A. Monroe, a young musician with the 54th Regiment.
Another example is the history of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. The 54th’s tragic losses at the Battle of Fort Wagner in 1863 are also remembered for triumphant bravery shown and for how the soldiers paved the way for numerous other black units in the Union Army for the remainder of the war. The 54th also fought a lesser-known but just as critical battle against its own government: the fight for equal pay. African American soldiers in the 54th and other Black units refused pay for 18 months until the government granted them the same pay to their white counterparts. While the achievement of equal pay is regarded another triumph for civil rights, numerous tragedies shape this story: the hardship of the pay battle on Black soldiers and their families, the immense tragedy of the US Government’s racism and oppression, and the harsh punishments and even deaths of several soldiers for “mutiny” over the conflict.
How do you think that Triumph and Tragedy can act as perspectives for examining history? What items in our collection do you think connect to the theme?
| Published: Friday, 14 September, 2018, 12:00 AM
Summer Education Programs at the MHS
By Kate Melchior, Center for the Teaching of History
Friday, June 20th marked the end of our three-day teacher workshop, “Loyalism in the Era of the American Revolution”. The program played host to 40 K-12 teachers and heritage educators from the Boston area to as far as Seattle, providing them with an in-depth perspective on both the motivations and struggles of American loyalists in the late 18th century.
Participants arrived early Wednesday morning to begin the workshop. MHS Adams Papers’ Christopher Minty kicked off the program by introducing participants to the roots of Loyalist ideology and motivations. Teachers then explored Loyalist primary source materials from the MHS collections, including the broadside denouncing Loyalist shop owner William Jackson and his later letter to the Continental Congress protesting his imprisonment and the seizure of his property. Teachers also explored political cartoons and propaganda from the period. After lunch, Christina Carrick from the MHS Robert Treat Paine papers discussed violence and “civil war” during the Revolution, and we ended the day with MHS intern Lindsay Woolcock presenting on primary sources from the Revolutionary period in South Carolina and comparing the occupations of Boston and Charlestown.
On Thursday, participants received a guided tour at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford from Education Coordinator Amy Peters Clark, where they learned about how the Revolution impacted two familes: the Royall family, who owned the home, and the Sutton family, who were enslaved there. Afterwards, we headed to the Medford Public Library to hear a talk on Black Loyalists and Loyalist slavery in the Canadian Maritimes from Professor Harvey Amani Whitfield of the University of Vermont.
Upon returning to the MHS on Friday, participants were treated to several other sessions on loyalism by scholars Patrick O’Brien (USC) and Christina Carrick on Loyalist exile and return, ultimately finishing their workshop with a session on technological tips and tricks from local educator Edward Davies. Throughout the course of the workshop, participants received guidance on accessing primary source materials through the MHS website and other digital resources.
Thank you to all of our speakers and staff for helping to make this seminar so successful, and to our wonderful community of educators!
Looking forward, the MHS will be hosting an October workshop titled “Fashioning History” to partner with our upcoming MHS exhibit on “Fashioning the New England Family.” In December, we will host the “Remembering Abigail” workshop celebrating the life and legacy of Abigail Adams. To learn more, visit our Teacher Workshops page at the Center for the Teaching of History website.
| Published: Wednesday, 1 August, 2018, 1:00 AM
Massachusetts Students at National History Day
By Kate Melchior, Education
On June 10th, 64 middle and high school students from 25 different Massachusetts schools set out to the University of Maryland, College Park for the 2018 NHD National Contest. There they joined a group of over 3,000 students representing all fifty United States, Washington, D.C., Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and international schools in China, Korea, and South Asia. Once at College Park, they spent the week presenting the history projects they’ve worked on all year, traded state pins and stories with students from around the world, and shared in the incredible experience that is National History Day.
Students bring pins from their state to National History Day, which they trade during the week. The goal is to collect every state and territory!
The annual National History Day contest serves as the final stage for a series of smaller NHD contests at the local and state/affiliate levels. There, students who have spent the year working on primary source-based research papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries, and websites and have made it through local, regional, and state contests compete against hundreds of other national and international projects. Massachusetts prize-winning projects explored this year’s theme of “Conflict and Compromise” through topics and historical figures including Deborah Sampson, the Treaty of Portsmouth, The Philippine-American War, Desmond Doss, and the Civilian Public Service.
Students visited the Lincoln Memorial during their D. C. Monuments Tour.
During their four day stay in College Park, students experienced life on a college campus, staying in dorms and eating in the school dining halls with students from around the world. They viewed the exhibits and performances of other students and explained their own topics of research to new friends. They also participated in a variety of activities with their Massachusetts cohort, including a monument tour of D.C., a trip to the National Zoo, and a Red Sox-Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards. Finally, on the last day they participated in a massive parade and award ceremony in the UMD Stadium.
The MA students are wearing blue t-shirts with our tricorn hat logo on them.
The Massachusetts Historical Society is incredibly proud to recognize the following winners from the 2018 National Competition:
First Place - Senior Group Website
Tucker Apgar, Lily Ting, Sean Li
"'By Winter We Will Know Everything': The Prague Spring and Conflict over Control"
Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, Wenham MA
Outstanding Junior Entry from Massachusetts - Junior Paper
“The Penny War: How Children Fought to Compromise with Millionaires”
Hanscom Middle School, Lincoln MA
Outstanding Senior Entry from Massachusetts - Senior Group Website
Zijian Niu, Robert Sucholeiki
"The Geneva Accords: The Compromise That Sparked the Vietnam War”
Winchester High School, Winchester MA
We’d also like to extend a special shout out to William Sutton of Hingham High School for his selection as the Legacy Award nominee for Massachusetts, and to Massachusetts students who made it into the top ten finalists at NHD 2018: Angela McKenzie (Stoneham HS), Ben Franco and Massimo Mitchell (Applewild School), Nora Sullivan Horner (Hamilton Wenham HS), Arda Cataltepe (Weston HS), Robert Sucholeiki and Zijian Niu (Winchester HS), and Heather Anderson (Hanscom MS). Congratulations to all of our student historians!
If you are interested in learning more about NHD or joining us as a teacher, student, or judge for Massachusetts History Day 2018, please visit our website at www.masshistoryday.com.
| Published: Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 12:00 AM
MHS and Massachusetts History Day
By Amanda Fellmeth, Intern and Kate Melchior, Education
As the State Affiliates for Massachusetts History Day, Mass Historical and the Center for the Teaching of History are excited to celebrate the incredible work of young historians across the state. From over 5,000 students competing at the school level to the 63 students advancing to the 2018 National History Day Competition outside Washington D.C. this June, a fabulous group of young people across the state have actively engaged in the research and re-telling of a broad range of historical topics.
National History Day is a year-long, primary source-based research project for students in grades 6-12 that encourages exploration of local, state, national, and world history. The competition takes place in two divisions (Junior (Grades 6-8) and Senior (Grades 9-12). The students present their research within the format of five different categories: Research Paper, Exhibit, Performance, Documentary, or Website, and can choose to participate individually or as part of a group. This year’s theme is “Conflict and Compromise”, and students worked with educators, archivists, librarians, and historians all over the state to research their chosen subjects in this theme. The diverse array of student topics this year included:
- - “Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Vilifying Women During the Conflict in Salem”
- - “The Flapper Story: A History of Lesbian Development, Modern Feminism and Gender Roles in the 1920s”
- - “A Cloying Compromise: The Story of the Hawaiian Annexation”
- - “Murky Past, Clean Future: The Clean Air Act of 1970”
Mass History Day will also be celebrating student work in a celebration of the life of Frederick Douglass next month! In honor of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial, MHS and Mass History Day teamed up with Mass Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Primary Source to offer special student awards, school scholarships, and teacher stipends for works that illuminate the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass. Students will present their projects and have the chance to speak with noted Douglass scholars David Blight of Yale University, Lois Brown of Wesleyan University, and John Stauffer of Harvard University at the Mass History Day Frederick Douglass Bicentennial on 2 June. For more information on the program and how to attend, visit the Mass Humanities website.
Massachusetts History Day is one of the rare programs that helps students refine critical thinking and research skills used in all subject areas. This competition gives students an opportunity to dive deep and truly engage with primary resources, an experience that not only helps to build their appreciation for history and the importance of research societies and libraries, but gives them valuable practice in higher education-type research. The format of the projects and the flexibility in research topics also allows students to play to their own strengths and interests. These types of activities also help students bring their education outside the classroom and engage with students, historians, and enthusiasts from all over the nation. Mass Historical and Mass History Day are proud of our 2018 participants and excited to watch the next generation of historians in action!
| Published: Friday, 4 May, 2018, 5:14 PM
Bring Your Students to MHS!
By Kate Melchior, Center for the Teaching of History
December is knockingon the door which means that the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS is wrapping-up its inaugural semester of class visits! This fall, the MHS hosted a number of programs for middle school, high school, and college students who want to learn about primary sources and experience the work of historians first-hand.
Students getting up close and personal with MHS documents.
Our collection of Revolutionary War-era material is popular with middle and high school classes who come to MHS to learn about the real people behind Boston’s Freedom Trail. For example, Cohasset-based Chris Luvisi’s AP US History class examined artifacts and documents related to the Boston boycott of British goods in the 1760s and 1770s, including the 1767 “Address to the Ladies” which encouraged Boston women to forgo imported British luxuries in order to appear “Fair, charming, true, lovely, and cleaver” to young men. After taking on identities of Boston craft workers, merchants, shopkeepers, and domestic housewives, students voted on whether to support or ignore the nonimportation agreement. While most students supported the boycott in theory, a number of them admitted that they would likely keep buying their imported tea under the table!
Students were excited to get a close look at a bottle of tea leaves collected from Dorchester Neck the morning after the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
Vincent Bradley’s AP US History class from Catholic Memorial School also engaged with the history of the Revolution, this time through the perspective of John Adams. Students explored how Adams’ views on protest and dissent changed over time by looking at his opinions on the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, Shay’s Rebellion, and the Alien and Sedition Acts. Bradley’s class also saw historians in action while participating in one of MHS’ Brown Bag Lunches, where they heard Kabria Baumgartner from the University of New Hampshire speak about her current research on Black girlhood and the desegregation of Massachusetts public schools. Catholic Memorial students asked Professor Baumgartner questions about her work and listened as she workshopped her research with other local historians and visitors.
Students deciphered John Adams's notes from the Boston Massacre trials to learn about his motivation for defending British soldiers.
As the state coordinators for Massachusetts History Day, the Center for the Teaching of History (CTH) also helps many students learn research strategies for their upcoming projects. Megan Brady’s eighth grade history club from the John F. Kennedy School in Somerville came in on a Saturday so that they could learn about the collections at MHS and practice working with primary sources. Her students, whose National History Day interests range from early Pilgrim-Wampanoag relations to LGBTQ History in the 1920s, posed thoughtful questions to Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey while looking at Sarah Gooll Putnam’s Civil War-era childhood diary and a daguerreotype of author and reformer Annie Fields, who lived in a “Boston marriage” with her partner Sarah Orne Jewett for decades. You can learn more about National History Day and find inspiration for your own projects at the Massachusetts History Day website, the National History Day site, or at our own Center webpage.
Sarah Gooll Putnam's diary entry on 14 April 1865. The young artist drew her own expression at hearing of President Lincoln's asssassination to illustrate how she felt at the news.
The Center sometimes partners with Library Reader Services to help host college visits as well, which gives the perfect excuse to explore more specific and unusual themes in the MHS collections. Erika Boeckeler brought two of her Northeastern University classes this fall to explore Children’s Literature and Shakespeare in America, leading to rediscovery of gems in our stacks such as a homemade morality tale titled “Adventures of a ruffle” that was written by Anne Harrod Adams, John and Abigail’s daughter-in-law! On another day, Cathy McCarron’s class joined us from Middlesex Community College to explore Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker’s court petitions for manumission and their leadership in ending slavery in Massachusetts. We discussed the different types of primary sources that illustrate the lives of individuals who previously lacked a voice in traditional historical narratives.
If you would like to bring students to visit us, or have the Center for the Teaching of History come to you, please contact the Center for the Teaching of History at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of our student programs are free of charge, and we would love to work with you to create a memorable program with your class! For more information on our programming, visit the Center at http://www.masshist.org/teaching-history.
| Published: Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 12:00 AM