This is the second lesson in my series for teachers and students. I often find that students forget to develop context before researching, especially middle schoolers who may not have taken coursework that would provide such context yet. Here’s the lesson I use to encourage my own students to think about vertical (the time period) and horizontal (before and after) context.
Discussion questions: What does the phrase historical context mean? Why is it important in History Day?
When starting research, a lot of students quickly learn many details on their specific topic, be it a person or an event. While this is a necessary first step in research, you’ll also need some context so you can properly frame your thesis. Historical Context refers to the wider picture and circumstances that frame an event or person. Context helps your research make sense.
You want to argue that your topic is a significant conflict/compromise. To do this, you need to show how it was a change from the norm!
Remember, you are researching one coat on a rack. How is YOUR coat different, special, and unique? If it’s the only orange coat with a zipper, that’s a big deal! But we won’t know this unless you describe the other coats.
When considering historical context, think about before, during, after “your” topic.
Lastly, make sure you include dates when discussing events that fit your topics historical context. Dates firmly anchor events into a timeline and help establish trends or cause-effect. You might not be used to using dates in the Informational or Argument writing you do in ELA class, but in History Day dates are important.
Jenn McMunn is a social studies and ELA enrichment teacher at Mansfield Middle School. She has had students participate in History Day for 16 years and currently serves as the Mansfield Regional Coordinator.