The Breaking Barriers in History theme is an exciting lens through which to view historical events. Students have the opportunity to explore topics that have made a lasting impression and brought change to the world. Historically, barriers take time to break and most often are not recognized or appreciated until decades later. It is the historians who examine events, analyze, draw conclusions and document events from a historical perspective. Historians write what becomes the accepted description of the past. Historians decide the importance of people, circumstances, and events that will be studied in school textbooks and remain embedded in the subconscious of society through time.
It is important for students to dig deep and examine secondary resource descriptions that provide the long term impact of their individual topics. A project with balanced research will contain comparisons of multiple secondary sources with various interpretations. Comparing numerous perspectives will help students gain a well-rounded view of circumstances from which to draw conclusions. Many events have multiple interpretations and impacts that will challenge students.
Historical fiction books can provide exciting story lines to captivate young readers and introduce historical background information. The bibliography in the back of these books can also direct students to valuable resources they may not locate otherwise. Surprising facts may be discovered that contradicts present-day understanding.
Historical figures who were trying to break through a barrier during their lifetime could not know the resulting long term consequences.
For example, the Women’s Temperance Movement broke through the political and cultural barriers created by the male dominant society and sought a ban on alcohol. The enactment of the 18th Amendment, banning intoxicating liquor led to an organized crime ring that created a more destructive menace to society. In the end, the 18th Amendment did not accomplish what it set out to do in the first place, but its impact was not known until decades later. Secondary resources will provide students the opportunity to read the work of historians who have studied the ramifications on our society over time.
Many young students fall into the trap of believing everything is available on the internet. “You can Google anything.” By limiting research to online availability, students lose the depth and scope printed materials provide, in addition to losing valuable resources that can bring various perspectives and voices to their conclusions. Secondary resources give students the opportunity to actually measure the positive and negative outcomes that cannot be known or interpreted through a primary source. They can provide various viewpoints and analyses of the actual impact decades later.
Both the controversial Civil Rights Act and Voting Suppression Act of 1965 broke through major barriers politically and socially in the United States at the time. Their impact may be presented differently by historians in the different regions of the United States. Various ethnic groups will interpret the outcome of their personal experiences with a different lens. It is very important for students to examine all viewpoints before drawing conclusions. By doing so, they will have a deeper understanding of their topic and it’s major impact and ramifications through history. Time and place help us to observe and be the most objective of historical events. It is the distance and perspective of time that gives secondary resources their most value to researchers. Secondary resources will provide students the cohesiveness to draw conclusions and develop a full picture of their topic.
Sharon Wlodarczyk is a longtime CHD educator who works with students in Region 15.
In middle and high schools all across Connecticut, colder weather and shortened days signal the beginning of the winter-long process of developing a National History Day project.
Time for inquiry, time for research, time for interviews. Time to hunker down and pore over volumes of research, journal articles, and hundreds of Chronicling America newspapers. Sound unappealing? Don’t worry. It doesn’t sound particularly appealing to me either.
History Day is a whole lot more than a dry textbook or memorized dates. It’s an opportunity to discover a gem of a story thinly veiled beneath the surface level history you learn in school. Hundreds of thousands of people and narratives are yours for the finding. It can all seem overwhelming at first, which is why topic selection is so critical. Find something based on your interests, and narrow in until your focus is just broad enough to find an abundance of sources but narrow enough to be fascinating, unique, and manageable. As cliche as it sounds, your topic should make you excited to learn.
But in the throes of research and thesis development, don’t forget what I have found to be the most rewarding part of History Day--making connections. Talking with experts, teachers, librarians and historians will give you new insight and bits of knowledge you never expected. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to ask any questions you may have. Never hesitate to request an interview with an expert--chances are they’ll be thrilled you care about their area of study! Revise, revise, revise--be open to suggestions and seek feedback on your work. Nothing is perfect the first time. Doing more research often forces you to reevaluate your claim, and that’s part of the process. You owe it to your topic to examine it from all angles.
History has living consequences. The topic you’re researching likely has real, human connections, and finding these people will elevate your project to a level you never anticipated. My project took me from a bookstore in Damariscotta, Maine, to dark library stacks, to a basement vault in the Maine State Library. From archival rooms to an archaeology lab, to the white shell beach of an abandoned island, to a seafood restaurant and a tiny historical society. I met professors, historians, archaeologists, and the descendants of the island people I researched. If you let it, National History Day will bring you on a similar and fascinating journey.
Best of luck, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any NHD questions at email@example.com! I’m happy to help in any way I can.
Margo Pedersen is a junior at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, CT. She has participated in NHD four times, competed three times, and attended the national contest three times. Her paper, “Malaga Island: How the State of Maine Devastated a Resilient Island Community in the Name of the Greater Good” won first place at the 2019 National History Day Contest in the Senior Paper division.
As the co-advisor in Vernon schools, I have found the need to have a variety of tools at the ready to facilitate students’ topic shopping and turn this daunting step into a perfect time for your students to show them how broad their knowledge base really is.
Always start with an introduction to the annual theme. Before introducing the theme to your students, familiarize yourself with the tools offered by National History Day and Connecticut History Day. The theme book is key for educators to understand the nuances of the theme, and both entities offer webinars and other theme-related educator materials, many of which are classroom ready.
Sometimes students need broad topic categories to help them grasp the idea that everything has a history. You can pre-select topics (ie: science, inventions, entertainment, transportation, civil rights, etc.) or have students suggest them. Then break students into groups, assign each group a specific number of topics, and have them write related topics on chart paper. After 3-4 minutes them display their lists, and students travel the room to shop for topics. For instance, I have a broad category of FOOD; this leads to chefs, cooking methods, cereal, French, etc. I encourage the students to dig deeper for even more detailed ideas for each of these subtopics. If you need a more independent version of this activity, you can have students use my Topic Word Web, which has broad and more focused topics, still allowing students to be even more specific with their ideas. This activity has been helpful for our after school program in which we have students engaged at a variety of skill and starting points.
By this point in the brainstorming, we encourage the students to complete a skim search on the Internet for a few of their choices. Some are ready to run with one or two ideas, while others may still need additional exploratory time. For these students, direct them to the CHD list of local topics or other general searches using the theme words in their search. The CHD Student Handbook has a terrific form for the students use to organize these early searches, and providing them with a handful of useful sources once they’ve made a final topic selection.
Regardless of the format for your school’s History Day program, these activities will be effective!
Cyndee McManaman is the Mansfield/Storrs Regional Coordinator and a former middle school social studies teacher.
This year’s NHD theme not only provides opportunities for students to search for inspirational stories, but to also share and to ponder their impact. It also provides teachers and students with a golden opportunity for metacognitive growth. For, if truth be told, one of the greatest barriers to creating a successful project is the difficulty encountered when trying to select an appropriate topic.
Here is a sample of just some of the barriers in topic selection that I, and the students with whom I work with, tend to run into.
American conservatives generally believe in preserving the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. In the 1960’s the Black Panther Party also championed those rights. What is the real issue in the gun control debate? Why is it so hard to come to an agreement on what should be done?
Global warming is a major issue to be sure but the melting of the polar ice cap may be hard to relate to. However, what about the effect of global warming on the frequency of storms in our area? Can we prepare for them? Are we going to have to sacrifice some things in order to keep ourselves safe?
The very issue of a barrier is one that connotes an unsettling feeling in most people. Why is that? Are all barriers bad? Why are barriers created in the first place? Can breaking a barrier be a bad thing? How did we get the feeling we have about barriers? Can two people view the same barrier differently?
As that great philosopher, and pretty good baseball player, Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” If you really watch something closely, you are bound to have questions about what you are seeing. Those questions are what will lead the students to topics of interest. Topics of interest will translate into an eagerness to learn and that eagerness will go a long way to helping the students persist when they encounter obstacles along the way. I believe that it is important to ask the right questions.
Regardless of the annual theme, the NHD process is all about breaking barriers; those that are imposed on us or those that we impose on ourselves. When it comes to topic selection, taking the time to recognize these barriers and to examine how we typically deal with them can make all the difference.
Tony Andrade is the Fairfield Regional Coordinator and a former middle school social studies teacher.
The answer to that may not be so simple. After working as Instructional Facilitator for grades 4-8 in social studies, I struggled with my teachers to follow the lesson I learned after attending Nationals in 2018 – that a National History Day project is truly just a five paragraph persuasive essay.
While teaching eighth grade social studies last spring, I found the students had a very difficult time grasping the Civil War and staying engaged with the lessons. How could they not be interested? To get them interested, I decided to bring in NHD. However, the students were not as excited about this idea has I had hoped they would be. I took some time to find out how such successful participants that had done NHD for the past three years really dreaded doing it again, and the answer was surprising.
First, the students lacked the knowledge of context and current events. My philosophy is we learn about the past to understand our present to make informed decisions about our future. We started watching CNN Student 10 news at the start of every class to provide them with information about what is going on in the world. We had intelligent debates about what was happening in their own world to hook them into wanting them to learn about the past.
Next, I tackled how to help them develop research skills. I found they did not know how to read non-fiction text in order to analyze it. I taught close reading strategies for main ideas. I taught lessons on citing text. The key was that all these lessons applied to their own topic. They were motivated to learn. Inquiry-based learning is an awesome tool for any teacher.
Once they understood how to read a text to analyze, we tackled notes. While notes may work for some, I learned a valuable lesson: LET THEM READ! No notes. After they completed the chapter or Internet article, have students write what they learned in their own words in at least five sentences and I have students find a quoted to back up what they learned. Finally, they draw conclusions, make connections, and tie back to the essential question in no less than five sentences. We repeated this process for two more sources. After a few sources, I asked them to copy and paste the above steps in order and they realized the structure of the body paragraphs were complete in less than thirty seconds. They were blown away. They were also able to analyze if their arguments were important and distinct and different. Many opted to rewrite at least one of the paragraphs. I then taught how to write a thesis and a conclusion. The miracle was this whole process was less than three weeks! They enjoyed it. They thanked me. It was incredible.
So, my new mission is to make every month for every grade an Inquiry-Based Learning product connected to each teacher’s curriculum. These are at first simply a five-paragraph argument. As we move toward fall, we will introduce the five different ways they can express their argument, teaching image analysis, interviews, etc. For each unit, we are scaffolding. For younger students, the teacher is finding the materials. All teachers agreed to set aside time every day to connect to the present and they saw an immediate change in attitude with their students. Now the students look forward to social studies and they can’t wait for NHD.
Tina Bernard is the Grades 4-8 Social Studies Instructional Facilitator with Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School in East Haddam and works with Connecticut History Day students throughout the school.
This week, many Connecticut teachers and students will be returning to the classroom. We are looking forward to another exciting year working with you!
This year, National History Day (NHD) is introducing a brand new theme, Breaking Barriers in History. The NHD annual theme serves as a lens for students to explore the past and focus their research and analysis. You can download this year’s theme book HERE. The theme narrative is on Pages 5-6. That document is an important one to share with students. Connecticut History Day staff and volunteers are also glad to come and do a Theme Workshop in your classroom at no charge.
Instead of rewriting the theme narrative, I’d like to offer some suggestions and ideas for exploring this year’s Annual Theme.
Students often choose topics that they are familiar with and that feel “safe" because they have been covered in the classroom. Encourage students to consider local topics. Each year, CHD staff gathers ideas from museum and history colleagues that results in 30+ page list of Connecticut topics related to the Annual Theme. For every national trend, a local example can be found. We post that list HERE. Connecticuthistory.org is a great place to search for potential topics.
If students want to explore a well-known topic, encourage them to think creatively. I am sure this year we will see a lot of Jackie Robinson projects about how he broke the color barrier in baseball. What about Jackie Robinson’s involvement in the establishment of Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution located in Harlem? Did Jackie Robinson break any barriers by refusing to move to the back of an Army bus? Did baseball executive Branch Rickey has any role in breaking the color barrier in baseball? Instead of studying Jackie Robinson, what about discovering the person who broke the color barrier in basketball or hockey?
This year’s theme of Breaking Barriers in History is an exciting one. We can’t wait to see what topics your students will be exploring!
The trip to the National Contest is always a wonderful celebration of the achievements of Connecticut's students. It's a delight to get to know students, teachers, and parents. This year's 68-member delegation was pretty amazing and the 2019 National Contest was one of the most memorable contests ever!
Never in our history have so many Connecticut students received national awards. It really was unbelievable, especially when you consider that approximately 4,000 Connecticut students participate and that there are states with 30,000 or more participants.
Connecticut dominated the Senior Paper category. Margo Pedersen from Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven won First Place for her paper Malaga Island: How the State of Maine Devistated a Resilient Island Community in the Name of the Greater Good. Ishan Prasad from Staples High School in Westport won Second Place for his paper Shah Bano and India's Postcolonial Predicament: Gender vs. Religion.
Mia Porcello from Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford won First Place in the Senior Individual Exhibit division for her project Out of the Closet and into the Medicine Cabinet: ACT UP New York's Healthcare Triumphs. This is the third time Mia has won first place at the National Contest.
Two Connecticut students won Special Prizes. Marlena Pegolo from Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford won Outstanding Entry in World War I History for her performance, The Tragic and Triumphant "Tail" of Stubby, the Military Dog. Josh Picoult from Simsbury High Schoolin Simsbury won the U.S. Constitution Award for his project Where Do We Draw the Line? How the Triumph of District-Based Representative Government Devolved into a Tragic Distortion of American Democratic Ideals.
Lindsay Moynihan from Conard High School in West Hartford won a four year scholarship to the University of Maryland for her project Turning a Tragedy into a Triumph" Dolley Madison, the War of 1818, and the Creation of a National Identity. Lindsay has been a CHD participant for six years.
Two Connecticut students recieved the Outstanding Connecticut Entry Prizes. Eileen Peng from Irving A. Robbins Middle School in Farmington won a Junior Division prize for her paper The Treason of Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Triumph and Tragedy. Katelyn Meyers from Nonnewaug High School, Region 14 won a Senior Division prize for her exhibit, The Nuremberg Doctors Trials.
Two other Connecticut teams were finalists. Iniya Raja from Timothy Edwards Middle School in South Windsor finished in 6th place for her Junior Individual Performance, The Eugenic Roles: Dead Souls and Birth Control. Emma Losonczy, Lucia Wang, Mallika Subramanian, Rhea Choudhury, and Sharmila Green from Bedford Middle School in Westport finished in 8th place for their Junior Group Exhibit, Lise Meitner: A Woman's Determination and Scientific Triumph Through Personal Societal Tragedy.
The National Contest was much more than just winning awards. Morgan Geisinger from Vernon Center Middle School was one of 57 students to share her exhibit, Triumph Over Tragedy: Newsies Stop the World, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Wednesday, June 12. That same day, a group of five students, McKenna Semeraro, Walter Vallecillo, Luis Nunez, Marlon Vallecilla, and Saoirse Noyes from CREC Montessori Magnet School in Hartford presented their documentary on the Little Rock 9, entitled Paying a Price for Education, to Congressman John Lewis. Congressman Lewis insisted his whole office come to watch the students' work and commented that "we learn from young people." In researching their topic, the students interview the sister of one of the Little Rock 9 students. Luis Nunez commented that "we poured passion into our presentation."
Connecticut students had a chance to come together during the week as well. Many students attended the Welcome Ceremony on Sunday, June 8. While rain forced us inside, it was still an honor to listen to Civil Rights Activist Judy Richardson as she spoke about her experience with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. On Monday, June 9, we celebrated the end of the first round of judging for the junior division and welcomed many senior division students with an ice cream social. The University of Maryland's Dairy Store is a firm favorite of NHD participants! On Wednesday, June 12, many members of CT's delegation joined Liz Porter, the Norwich Regional Coordinator, and I for a trip to Washington D.C. The group toured the U.S. Capitol, visited the U.S. Supreme Court, and met with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. One of the Senator's staff, Natalie, is an NHD alumni and she spoke to our group about her experiences. The National Contest culminated in the Awards Ceremony, held in the Xfinity Center at UMD.
It was another exciting National Contest! As always, I am struck by the breadth of topics students explored. All of us at Connecticut History Day are proud of all of the students who participated this past year.
- Rebecca Taber-Conover
State Coordinator for Connecticut History Day
I've participated in National History Day for two years now. In 8th grade, my social studies teacher encouraged us to create a project for NHD. I decided to give it a try. A couple of my friends and I chose to create an exhibit together. The teacher helped us choose a topic and gave us some tips on where to start our research. We finally decided that our topic would be the Cuban Missile Crisis. We did extensive research on this event and I really learned a lot, not only about the topic but about the techniques that are used to interpret history and create an argument. Processes like this really helped me in my first year of high school, as well as creating my second project: an individual paper. I was lucky enough to have been selected to compete at the national competition for both years and have many great experiences.
One of the first experiences I had was at the opening ceremony. At the 2019 ceremony, we were fortunate to hear a civil rights activist speak. The activist talked about her life in the South and her involvement in Freedom Summer. It was really interesting to hear a personal account of the events that occurred, as well as her unique perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. Overall, National History Day has provided me, as well as many other students, a unique opportunity to meet important figures and to listen to their ideas.
Another fun experience that had at National History Day was the pin exchange. Milling around, in search of pins from other states gives you the chance to talk to participants from all over the country. It also teaches one the great art of bargaining! This year I came home with over 40 pins from other states!
The interviews with judges are also, believe it or not, quite enjoyable. Over the last couple of years, I have interviewed with judges at the regional, state, and national competitions. The judges are really friendly and they are truly interested in our projects. I liked both the seminar format for papers as well as the one-on-one interviews for exhibits (and papers at Nationals).
The capstone experience is, of course, the awards ceremony. The "Parade of States" is exhilarating. We met early in the morning, armed with our Connecticut banners and flags and joined all of the other states (and international teams to boot!) as we marches around the stadium. Seeing all of those different states and participants in one place really made me realize how fortunate I was to be there. It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. This year, at Nationals, my paper won second prize, another Connecticut paper won first prize, and several other Connecticut projects received prizes as well. This rare occurrence in the paper category proved how stiff the competition was this year in Connecticut but also shows how devoted and amazing our teachers are to helping us and helping understand the feedback from CHD staff and judges. Their time, effort, and ideas inspired us!
From 2014-2017, I was a participant of the Connecticut History Day contest in the individual performance category. The first time I was told about History Day, I was driven by the long term research and composition of the projects. I knew that I was ready to take on a new challenge.
The best part of History Day was always choosing a topic. In school, we only ever learned a portion of history from different time periods: we get a basic understanding of important historical figures and how they create a lasting impact. I enjoyed exploring a wide variety of topics within a centralized theme and focusing on aspects of history beyond the ones in our textbooks.
Another great aspect of History Day was creating your project's thesis. My project: "Exploring the Power of Dance: Martha Graham" for the 2016 theme of Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange was built off of a thesis focusing on Martha Graham's ability to revolutionize dance through the expansion of boundaries. Through countless textbooks, New York City dance studio tours, and exposure to different types of empowering, modern dance techniques, I was able to derive this thesis and bring her story back to life-- a feeling so satisfying that I wanted to learn more about her.
Following my first place win at the Hartford Regional Contest that year, I did just that. I utilized the easy accessibility to the libraries at ECSU and UConn, as well at the Library of Congress resources, to find more articles and information on Graham's significance. Having the opportunity to obtain copies of Graham's performances allowed me to get creative with the facts, connect myself to my audience, portray a beautiful art form, while also analyzing all of the information in a way that can be understood today. This is one of the greatest things I learned from being a participant of CHD. There is truly something satisfying in bringing a historical figure to life and recreating their story.
The extensive research and writing brought be all the way to Nationals. Although I did not place, the one thing I did win was a new experience and a new group of friends-- one thing that people forget to mention in their overall experience of History Day. I met so many people and made so many friends during my History Day journey. The people from all over the state, all over the country, and all over the world, come together for one shared interest-- history, along with a sense of creativity.
History Day is something still very near and dear to my heart. It has been a part of my life for years now. Which is why I took on the decision to be a judge for the contest. I missed all of the hype of the contest from when I was a participant that I knew I still wanted to be a part of all the excitement and use my experiences and expertise to help students foster their educational experience.
It's wonderful to be able to sit back and listen to the students as they present their projects. I learned about so many different topics that I probably never would've known about if it wasn't for History Day.
Although I love seeing all my medals lined up along my wall from all the regional, state, and national contests that I participated in, the best thing for me was finishing all my papers: printing four copies of my annotated bibliography and process paper and feeling the warmth of the endless pages as the ink dried and I stapled them together in the top left corner; seeing the finalized word count; seeing my self-composed title across the top of my papers and watching my timer reach ten minutes with the completion of the last line of my monologue; filing the trunk of my parents' car with props that set the scene of my performance; taking trips to different colleges in the area and carrying piles of textbooks from the library to my car; finding costumes for my performance and suddenly transforming into a person of such grandeur and inspiration. It is genuinely inspiring.
I think it is important to get involved in History Day because it fosters an environment of learning well beyond what is taught in the classroom. The skills that students will obtain from participating (whether they place in the top three or not) are life changing. You use the skills from History Day in everything that you do past high school. You become more academically and socially advanced. You learn to be more confident. You learn to accept change as a way to improve. You learn to love history.
Today, when people see History Day under my achievements on my resume, I am always so excited to tell them about it!
- Guada Mary Benoit
Connecticut History Day Participant 2014-2017
Connecticut History Day Judge
Team CT heads to the National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland in a little over a week. This is always one of my favorite times of year as at the National Contest I have the opportunity to get to know the Connecticut students, families, and teachers and to hear more about some of the amazing work that students have done. It's inspiring to be with these bright and articulate young people.
Right after the State Contest, we held a "Going to Nationals" workshop and I was amazed at the breadth of topics. I read about an important Indian court case involving Shah Bano; viewed a performance about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire; watched a documentary about the 1992 Watts Truce that was enacted between two rival gangs following the L.A. riots, to name a few projects.
Connecticut students (and their parents and teachers) should be incredibly proud of their hard work. At the State Contest, I heard many longtime judges and teachers express their belief that the quality of projects continues to increase every year. We are so grateful to the hundreds of teachers who support the program and work with the students.
This year, thousands of middle and high school students across the state completed a History Day project related to the theme of Triumph & Tragedy in History. Whether or not a student received an award, every student was a winner just by going through the process of researching and creating a project. As a 2011 study on the impact of National History Day on students found, participants gain valuable skills that make them ready for their futures.
Connecticut students do amazing things! We love to share some of the amazing experiences students have during History Day, such as meeting someone connected to their topic or visiting a historic site. We encourage you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your student's History Day experience.
We encourage you to cheer on Team CT during the National Contest which takes place from June 9-13th. Follow us on the Connecticut History Day Facebook page and watch the Awards Ceremony on Thursday, June 13th. Look for more information on how to watch via social media!