One of the most important elements of a history day project is that students need to show how their topic fits within the historical context around it. History doesn’t just happen. It is influenced by people, events, politics, society, innovations, and more. As students move from researching their topic to shaping their project, here are some ways for them to think about historical context.
Background Events- No event happens without something leading to it. Students should look at what events, societal changes, or innovations happened in the years before their topic. Think about how the Treaty of Versailles led to the start of World War II. Or how the enacting of new acts and taxes on the colonies led to the American Revolution.
Social Context- What was the social environment like at the time? Students should consider what the social norms were at the time. For example, how did racism, segregation, and Jim Crow laws set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement?
Intellectual or Scientific Context- How do or did experts understand your topic? Students should think about how people thought at the time and what technologies were available. What did scientists believe about the transmission of diseases? What did people think of the world around them?
Cultural Context- What were the cultural norms at the time? Students should examine how society viewed and expected people to behave. What were the prevailing views on women’s place? What behaviors were considered appropriate or inappropriate? Who was allowed to have certain jobs or be in certain places?
Economic Context- How did the economy shape people’s lives and choices? Think about how people had to live during the Great Depression or Germany before World War II.
Other Contexts- Students should try to identify other contexts that are relevant to their topics. These may not be the same for every student.
For most students, they will find that their topic will be the result of a response or reaction, or attempt to change the circumstances of the time. Understanding historical context will help your students best describe changes over time and identify the long and short term consequences and outcomes of their topic.
Modified with permission from Utah History Day’s Historical Context: Sets the Stage.