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Thursday, November 3, 2016

National History Day: Taking a Stand in History

As regular readers know, I'm a fan of National History Daya project based curriculum that has students grade 6-12 investigate a historical topic related to the annual theme, by conducting primary and secondary research. After they have worked to analyzed and interpret your sources, and have drawn a conclusion about the significance of their topics, students present their work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a web site.  

I like National History Day because I think it provides a good way for teachers to get their students thinking (and writing) like historians. (It's also a great way to meet both Montana State Social Studies and Common Core standards.)

The program is also flexible. Want students to write papers? Limit their presentation option. Want students to focus on a certain era or geographic location? You can add that requirement. The only thing that may feel constraining is the theme. But do not fear. Themes are chosen for the broad application to world, national, or state history and its relevance to ancient history or to the more recent past.  The intentional selection of the theme for NHD is to provide an opportunity for students to push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates and drill down into historical content to develop perspective and understanding. The NHD theme provides a focused way to increase students’ historical understanding by developing a lens to read history, an organizational structure that helps students place information in the correct context and finally, the ability to see connections over time. It does all this while barely limiting the topics students can address. (You can see a broad list of sample topics here.)


The 2016-17 theme is "Taking a Stand in History." Every year, NHD puts out a theme book to help students think about the theme. Although the contest allows topics from any place and time in history, we like to encourage students to think local--so we've pulled together a list of potential Montana topics, along with starting points for research. We've included bibliographies for well-known topics, like the Montana women's suffrage movement, and for lesser known topics, like the 1909 Missoula free speech fight; for nineteenth-century topics, like the Salish's attempts to retain the Bitterroot, and twentieth-century topics, like World War II conscientious objectors and the people who stood up to hate crimes in Billings in 1993. These preliminary bibliographies are great tools for any student conducting a Montana history project--whether or not they are participating in National History Day.

This year, the Montana Council for History and Civics Education is sponsoring National History Day in Montana, including two regional contests (in Missoula, February 27, and in Billings, date TBA) and a statewide contest in Bozeman on April 8.

The Montana Historical Society is sponsoring two prizes at the state contest:
  • The Martha Plassmann Prize to one outstanding National History Day project that utilizes the digitized newspapers available on the Library of Congress web site Chronicling America. The $500 prize is awarded to a project that best demonstrates a clear understanding and use of newspapers as a primary source. 
  •  The Dave Walter Travel Scholarship from the James H. Bradley Trust. This $1,000 scholarship will be awarded to the creator or creators of a Montana history project that is eligible to advance to the national contest. The project MUST be about a Montana history topic and the scholarship money must be used to pay for expenses relating to travel to Washington, D.C. 
If you want more information about National History Day, please contact the Montana coordinator, Michael Herdina.

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