On the morning of Thursday, April 6, 12 juniors from GDS’s U.S. history course and I gathered outside the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the cloudy sky portended the deluge of rain that would come later in the day, these students’ spirits were bright as they carted their exhibit boards or research papers through tight security into the Archives building and found their schedule for their interviews with judges. They were all there to participate in the National History Day (NHD) competition with students from across DC. After working all school year to complete historical research projects on a topic of their choice within American history, these students were ready to impress the judges in the hopes of moving to the national level of the contest.
Each year, NHD establishes a theme for the contest and students relate their topic to the theme. For this year’s theme, Taking a Stand, students found a variety of subjects in which a person or group in American history took a stand. For example, one student chose to study Rosa Parks, intrigued by the idea that Parks took a stand against segregation by remaining seated. Another student researched Dorothea Dix, a 19th-century reformer who advocated for more humane treatment of the mentally ill.
Students enjoyed the experience of researching their own topics and presenting arguments. Ali Glover ’18, who will advance to the National Competition, said that she was surprised that she was able to learn more and more about her topic while researching it over the course of many months. “I hadn’t expected that I’d be able to learn something new every day about the great migration,” she said.
Each student chose a category of presentation—this year, students chose to present their findings as an exhibit, a website, or an essay—and conducted research in primary and secondary sources in order to gain a deep understanding of their topic. NHD was therefore an opportunity for students to gain experience in conducting historical research, making interpretations and drawing conclusions, and then presenting their findings to judges from varied academic backgrounds.
As a result of their work, three GDS students advanced to the national level of the competition. The national contest will take place at the University of Maryland campus at College Park from June 11-15, 2017.
As their teacher, I could not be prouder of all of my U.S. history students this year for undertaking a major task and doing the tough and painstaking work that historians do in order to further build our understanding of the past. Congratulations to my U.S. history students and especially to those chosen to advance to the final round!