Usually when people celebrate, they are recognizing a birthday, a sports achievement, or a holiday. But thousands of students, teachers, and parents from all over the United States gathered in mid-June in College Park, Maryland to celebrate history.
“There are are almost 3,000 students here at National History Day marching around and cheering for academic excellence and history,” Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day, told TFK. “The whole experience is truly amazing.”
Learning from the Past
National History Day (NHD) is part of an international network that promotes history education through an annual contest. Each year, a theme is selected for the competition, and students have the opportunity to create a project based upon the theme. This year’s theme — Rights and Responsibilities in History — inspired over 600,000 students to enter into the competition. Projects at NHD included a performance of Alice Paul’s role in woman’s suffrage, a documentary on Jacob Riis’s photography, and a website on the Magna Carta. I had the opportunity to attend NHD as a delegate from Illinois and take part in the festivities.
National History Day opened with a welcome ceremony speech delivered by Dr. Amma Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin on the University of Maryland’s front lawn.
Dr. Amma said she learned of NHD from a teacher when she was a junior in high school. With help from her mother and a student teacher, Dr. Amma discovered the Amistad Africans—slaves who rebelled against crewmembers while being illegally transported. After delving into research and spending hours creating a project, Dr. Amma emerged with a first-place performance at NHD. But Dr. Amma says that while taking home the medal is nice, it wasn’t the principal objective of her project.
“The only thing on the forefront of my mind was to tell the Amistad Africans’ story and to tell it right,” she said.
Today, Dr. Amma is a historian and a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the subject areas of theater and dance. She credits NHD with inspiring her future career.
Exhibits and More
Another exciting event at NHD was the National History Night at the National Museum of American History. Students, parents, and teachers had the chance to tour the museum and view a selected exhibit from each state.
Abdullah Choudhury, an exhibitor from Virginia, created an exhibit on the topic of Japanese internment during World War II.
“After the state competition, I was able to interview two surviving internment members,” he said. “The interviews made a great addition to my board and definitely helped it stand out.”
Five students from Texas created a group exhibit that was also chosen to be on display at National History Night. Their project, “The Op[Press]ion of Sup[Press]ion” focused on press freedoms.
The awards ceremony on Thursday wrapped up the five-day National History Day celebration. During the three-hour event, 189 awards were handed out, including prizes for each entry category, outstanding entries for each state, special awards, and scholarships.
Out of the awards, TFK Kid Reporter Bridget Bernardo took home second place for her entry in the Junior Individual Website category. I received two awards—one first place prize for Junior Individual Website and the U.S. Constitution special award.