Today’s post comes from education intern Stephen Pearson.
Over two days earlier this month, students arrived at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, ready to compete. There was excitement and nervous energy in the air. Both the students and history came to life through dynamic performances, stirring documentaries, and eye-popping exhibits, just to name a few.
These projects were all part of the year-long National History Day program. Over a thousand students had competed in school-level competitions to make it to the DC competition at the National Archives. Two hundred and fifteen students from seven different DC schools shared their documentaries, exhibit boards, performances, papers, and even websites. Members of the history and National Archives community volunteered for two days to interview the student competitors and ultimately judge their work. For the top projects, this DC National History Day competition was a step toward “Nationals.”
The topic of this year’s National History Day program was “Turning Points in History.” Students made some compelling arguments about why their project’s topic was a turning point. One student—the final contestant showing off his website at the very end of the judging schedule—paced back and forth throughout a whole morning. He ended up winning first in his section, as well as a special award for great use of primary sources.
Other than the theme, one thing tied the different forms of media together: Documents. Primary sources were used extensively for the projects. And there could be no more fitting a venue than the National Archives, where students competed in the same building as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
A volunteer, here to help National Archives staff ensure the competition ran smoothly, commented “I was impressed by the variety of topics: the Battle of Stalingrad, Irish Potato famine, comedy in television, to name a few. It wasn’t just major themes in history, but specific events related to the theme of the day. I was inspired by their engagement with history and excitement for their topic.”
Another volunteer expressed surprise at the level at which the students were competing. He compared their experiences to ones they would have in college: being interviewed and questioned about their topics, projects, and even historical sources.
Culminating with an awards ceremony on the second day, the top three students for each media type were recognized, and some projects with outstanding qualities received special awards. The top two projects and their creators, for each media type, will move on to compete at the national competition in College Park, Maryland, in June.