The Record Enterprise, Thursday, May 9, 2013
PLYMOUTH — On Saturday, April 6, New Hampshire students take a step (or more) back in time during National History Day (NHD) at Plymouth State University.
NHD is an education program helping students in grades six through 12 engage the social studies by designing and completing original research on a topic of interest; this year’s theme is “Turning Points in History.” Students may choose a topic concerning the history of any time period of world history.
“Projects usually cover a broad range of interesting topics, from the local history of a New England company or personality, to the classic events of ancient history,” said PSU Professor of History Dr. John Krueckeberg. “What makes this national history day is the fact that students around our country are engaging this award-winning (and free) curricular program all in the same month; spending the day presenting their history and defending it to a team of judges.”
Students choose historical topics related to the theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources, and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. Just a few of this year’s 100 entries include a paper on the Weeks Act as a turning point in the history of New Hampshire’s White Mountains and an exhibit looking at the Weeks Act’s role in US History, a Web site on the battle of Midway, a performance on Edward Jenner and the smallpox vaccination, a paper on Chernobyl and the collapse of the USSR, a Web site on King Leopold II and African history, a documentary on the Sharpeville massacre and South African Aparteid, a Web site on the Greco-Persian wars, and a documentary using Kristalnacht as its turning point. Students compete as individuals or groups. Schools are encouraged to have their own local competition and are allowed to send the top two projects in each group to represent the school at States. At States, the top three projects will win medals and then the top two projects in each group – junior for grades six through eight, or senior for grades nine through 12 – qualify for the national competition in June at the University of Maryland – College Park. Special Awards also will be given for New Hampshire history and New England History. Also this year the New Hampshire Humanities Council is sponsoring a special award for a project that best embraces the importance of communicating humanities issues to the public. The National Archives and Records Administration will commend several local students with certificates acknowledging ‘best use of a primary document.’ (Twice New Hampshire students have won the prestigious “Archivist’s Award” at Nationals).
“Of course, all the students are winners, even if they don’t leave PSU with a medal or the opportunity to represent our Granite State at Nationals this summer,” says PSU’s Dr. Patrick May, co-coordinator of the program with Krueckeberg. He continues: “They’ve improved the job-ready skills they’ll need when they enter the New Hampshire labor force: analyzing information, synthesizing it, and presenting a conclusion based upon it; speaking in public and communicating effectively; working independently or in group collaborations. And this is to say nothing of the preparation for college level work that some will have engaged for the first time, even though they may have years to go before attending a university.”
Krueckeberg adds: “One of the things I hear most from the parents who attend States with their children is ‘Why didn’t I have social studies taught like this?’ Everyone involved with this program is impressed that students embrace the learning of history with a passion quite the opposite of that portrayed in popular media – that of the boring history class. National History Day brings the past alive for students and allows them not to ‘study’ history, but to ‘do’ history. And they’re great at it!”
Judging begins at 9:30 a.m. in PSU’s Hartman Union Building and Hyde Hall. Documentaries and performances are open to the public judging interviews end at lunchtime. The exhibit hall is open to the public from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m., at which time the awards ceremony commences. At 2 p.m., keynote speaker Professor Emeritus Richard Hesse will offer a “Humanities to Go” presentation on the Founding Generation and the US Constitution as a turning point in history. New Hampshire’s program has been hosted by Plymouth State University since 2003.