By Kathleen Barker, Education Dept.
Summer has officially turned to fall, which means it’s time once again for leaf peeping, pumpkin carving, and National History Day! Since the Society became the official co-sponsor of Massachusetts History Day earlier this year, I’ve learned a lot about making websites, judging performances for historical accuracy, and spotting student-created content in exhibitions mounted on replicas of everything from the Taj Mahal to the R.M.S. Titanic. I have also discovered that National History Day is a fabulous way to engage students in the process of doing history. For example, creating an NHD project requires that students work individually or in a group to select a topic related to the annual theme; conduct primary and secondary research at libraries, archives, and museums; think critically about sources and draw conclusions about the importance of their topic; and present their research through an exhibit, website, performance, documentary, or research paper. Best of all, students who produce history day projects develop all sorts of reading, writing, thinking, and presentation skills that they can apply to other courses in other disciplines. History Day is about so much more than history!
I was fortunate enough to attend a four-day NHD training session earlier this month. In addition to meeting competition coordinators from all over the world, I also attended a great session that explored the finer points of this year’s theme: Turning Points in American History. So, you might ask, how should we define a broad idea like “turning point?” More than an important event from the past, a turning point is an idea, event, or action that led to some sort of cultural, political, social, or economic change. It could be anything from the changes in Secret Service protocol after President Kennedy’s assassination to the creation of state arts patronage that resulted from the Russian Revolution. Of course, there are plenty of potential turning points in our own backyard. If you’d like to tackle a project that involves Massachusetts or New England history, explore the Society’s collections or contact the library staff (firstname.lastname@example.org; 617-646-0532) and start to plan a visit to the Library. For more information about participating in Massachusetts History Day, visit the MHD website. Good luck!