Today’s post was written by National Archives Education Specialist Andrea (Ang) Reidell. It’s the fourth in a four-part series highlighting National History Day (NHD) students across the country who researched historical sources from the National Archives to create award-winning NHD documentaries. Each post features a different type of primary source. Ang spoke with student Temple Lester about her research process and her use of National Archives photographs.
Museums are fantastic places for students to find potential topics and resources for their National History Day projects. Temple Lester, a middle-school student from Georgia, experienced that in 2019 when she visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture while at the NHD national contest.
During Temple’s visit to the museum, a poster from Shirley Chisholm’s groundbreaking 1972 presidential campaign caught her eye. After she got home, she did some more research on the famous “Unbought and Unbossed” candidate, and decided that Shirley Chisholm’s life experiences would make a great topic for the “Breaking Barriers in History” theme.
An important part of Temple’s process – as for all students – was learning how to access and research primary sources in archives. She remembers having more than 20 tabs open at a time on her laptop while she was doing her project research. It was challenging for her, but as she started to get the hang of how to search in archival collections, she was able to be more efficient in her research process.
View Temple’s 2020 NHD Junior Individual Documentary, Shirley Chisholm: The Good Fight:
For her project research, Temple used several different types of National Archives sources: photos of Shirley Chisholm with President Bill Clinton as Ambassador-Designate to Jamaica, with President Gerald Ford signing a Proclamation on Women’s Equality Day 1974, and also President Obama’s remarks when he posthumously awarded Shirley Chisholm the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Temple says her success at finding National Archives resources was a mix of serendipity and focused searching. She began her research in the National Archives Catalog. At the time she was unaware of DocsTeach, online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives — or even the fact that she has a National Archives facility right in her hometown of Atlanta. When she found out about these new resources during our interview, she was excited and hoped to be able to tap into them for research for her project this year, which is again about African-American history.
As for her advice for students just starting out on an NHD research journey? Temple said she would definitely tell students to check out the visual sources at the National Archives, because there are “many more photos than you can find at any other source, and with a federal website you know it is a reliable source.”
You can read more about how Temple researched and created her documentary in her NHD process paper and bibliography.
Congratulations, Temple, and thank you for taking the time to share your documentary and research journey with us! Your thoughts about researching in archives and using visual resources from the National Archives will be very helpful to students and teachers conducting National History Day research. And best of luck to all with NHD this year as you explore “Communication in History!”