By Kathleen Barker, Education Department
On Saturday, 5 October, the MHS hosted a fun-filled, hands-on workshop for teachers, students, librarians, and history enthusiasts. Nearly 20 participants braved the beautiful weather (and the Red Sox home game) to spend a day working with documents from the Society’s collections. Participants travelled far and wide to visit the MHS, and our guest list included students from Arlington; teachers from Bedford, Sharon, Rutland, Revere, and Fitchburg; and librarians and archivists in Boston, Methuen, and Wayland. Who could resist a workshop with a cheeky title like “Painless: A Survival Guide to the Dreaded History Project?”
Our goals for this one-day event included introducing visitors to the resources of the MHS, and encouraging those participants to think more creatively about the ways in which they present history to various audiences. To begin, we examined a range of historical documents from the era of the American Revolution through the Civil War, looking for connections to the theme of “rights and responsibilities.” As they perused letters, diaries, songs, petitions, and government records, participants were asked to collect evidence and draw conclusions about the past based on their understanding of the materials. Our clever participants identified several themes and essential questions that could be used to anchor a history project. We discussed ideas such as natural rights; the role of government in creating and protecting rights; and the various ways that people fought to protect or change their rights in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Once our intrepid investigators had collected their evidence, it was time for them to decide how to present their findings. Robert Jones, co-coordinator of Massachusetts History Day discussed how the program works, and how History Day methods can be used to encourage the creation of imaginative and engaging history projects. Students in grades 6-12 can participate in History Day, and Bob explained the different sorts of projects that student can create. The group discussed the pros and cons of the traditional history paper, websites, exhibitions, documentaries, and performances. It was then up to all of our participants to create their own project – in 15 minutes or less! One group of participants decided to create a website in order to make use of the great visuals on the site, as well as the multimedia capabilities of the web. (We’d love to see a site featuring songs from the collections of the MHS!) Another very brave group decided to create a 10-minute performance depicting abolitionist activities in the 1840s and 1850s.
It’s safe to say that by the end of the afternoon, our participants had several new methods for tackling the “dreaded” history project, whether it’s an exhibit for the local historical society, or a paper for a high school history class. If you’d like to join us for an upcoming workshop, visit our web calendar or the Education page. For more information about Massachusetts History Day, or to learn about serving as a judge at a 2014 History Day competition, visit the MHD website for news and contact information.