The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Massachusetts History Day: Young Historians at Work

On Saturday, April 6 -- one of the first truly spring-like days of the year -- I left my apartment before dawn to make my coffee-clutching way, along with several Massachusetts Historical Society colleagues, to Stoneham High School. What were we doing at a high school so early on a Saturday morning? We were there to serve as volunteer judges for the state round of the annual Massachusetts History Day competition. We were there to celebrate young historians at work crafting history.

This was my second year volunteering as a judge for Massachusetts History Day (MHD). Beginning in 2012, the MHS has co-sponsored MHD alongside the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies. MHD is the state affiliate of National History Day, an annual competition that encourages middle and high school students to undertake extensive primary-source based research on a topic related to the annual theme and build a historical argument in one of five categories: research paper, exhibition, performance, documentary, and website. Beginning in the fall (or even over summer vacation), young people embark upon their research, either individually or in groups, narrow their topic, craft a thesis, and eventually design a final project. Some face an initial in-school round before moving on to the district level competition, in early March, where the top two entries in each category move on to state. State winners will travel to the national competition in June.

On the day of the district and state competitions, students come before a panel of volunteer judges to present and discuss their hard work, after which each group of judges is faced with the difficult task of selecting the two best projects to advance to the next round -- as well as awarding honorable mentions and special prizes.

As a judge, my favorite part of each round is the chance, on the competition day, to meet with each student or student group to talk with them about their research. It is often in these conversations that the young person’s excitement about their topic and their depth of knowledge come to the fore. There is nothing that warms my historian’s heart quite so much as the opportunity to see a teenager’s eyes light up as she talks about the direction she’d like to take her work in the future, or when he describes the discovery of a key primary source.

This year we had projects ranging across time and space, all touching upon the annual theme of “turning points”: students tackled topics ranging from the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 to the role of the Internet in the Arab Spring, from the fall of apartheid in South Africa to the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

One of my favorite things about working as a reference librarian at the MHS is the opportunity to work with scholars at all stages of their research, from initial question to final footnote. Every year, young people visit our library to work on MHD topics; as a reference librarian I get to help them refine their research questions and locate primary source materials. As a History Day judge, I get to see the fruits of their hard work on competition day.

The 1st and 2nd place project winners from the Massachusetts History Day state competition will be traveling to the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, June 9-13 to participate in the national contest along with winners from across the country. We are proud to have our young scholars and their fine work represent Massachusetts and wish them the best of luck (and lots of fun!) while they are there.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 15 May, 2013, 12:00 AM


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