Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Power of National History Day

Every year Messiah College hosts one of the regional rounds in the National History Day competition.  As I note in this post and in the Virtual Office Hours episode embedded below, it is always an exciting time for the students participating and the Messiah College History majors who participate as judges.  It is even exciting for middle-aged history professors who walk around with unplugged microphones interviewing people:

Over at the blog of the Maryland Humanities Council, a History Day parent shares the experience that she and her son had competing in Maryland state competition.  Here is a taste:

Watching my older son fail at the Maryland History Day competition on Saturday was one of the toughest things I’ve done as a parent.  He had paced through the hours between his presentation to the judges and announcement of the awards.  At the awards ceremony, his face was pale.  He clenched and unclenched his hands and jaw, and stared intently at the emcees while other awards were announced. When his name wasn’t called for either the first or second place in his category, his posture sagged and I could see that he was working hard to keep his emotions under control.  When we left the Retriever Athletic Center at UMBC, he stormed off ahead of me.  An hour later, I had never been prouder of him, even though he had failed to accomplish an important goal.

My son blundered into the National History Day competition by accident in sixth grade.  All we knew was that it was a compulsory school project that would be a big part of his grade.  He was dragging his feet on picking a topic the afternoon before it was due.

“What do you want to do the project on?” I asked him in exasperation. He picked up a rubber chicken toy.  “Something with chickens,” he said.

“Fine,” I said.  “Let’s go to the Internet and look up chicken history.  Let’s have some fun with this.”

He found a book on the development of large-scale chicken farming on the Delmarva Peninsula.  He visited an agricultural museum in Delaware and a poultry farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  He designed an exhibit board shaped like a chicken, and used some basic model railroad construction techniques to build a diorama.  I was surprised when he received an award for the project at his school.  Astounded when the project won cash prizes at the county and state competitions.  Charmed when I watched him run around the University of Maryland campus to trade state buttons with competitors from all over the United States and beyond.  Thrilled when I saw the impact of success in the History Day competition on his self-esteem.  He was thinking of himself as a success.  A winner.

Read the rest here.