Thursday, May 7, 2009

On the other side of National History Day

By: Erin Crissman, Curator Back in 7th grade, (in the 1980s!) I participated in National History Day, a nationwide educational experience for middle and high school students. Across the US, students participate by spending most of the academic year preparing a project that corresponds to the national theme. This year’s theme is The Individual in History. The project can be an exhibition, paper, documentary, website or performance. Students can work together or alone. I worked with my friend Kristin – we did a project about money and currency. In later years, my sister also participated and went to the national competition! We both have careers related to our History Day experience – I’m a curator, she’s a graphic designer. So, this year, I was privileged and humbled to give back to these enthusiastic students what was so freely given to me as a teenager. I got to be a judge for the exhibitions category in the statewide competition hosted by The Farmers’ Museum and the New York State Historical Association! It was an amazing experience to interview students who had worked so hard and gone to extraordinary lengths to interview people and drive to libraries for primary sources. Projects I judged had already made it through their regional competitions in order to participate in the statewide contest. From here the winners travel to the national competition in Washington, DC.
I'm in the green jacket on the left of the photo - undoubtedly writing supportive comments. This is not a contest for students who write “reports” about their historical topics. Students must devise a clear thesis and present a point of view based on thorough research. Those in the exhibitions category must then narrow down all of the facts and sources they’ve gathered to create a clear and concise visual representation on a project board. This is a challenging task even for professional curators and exhibitions designers. You can view a list of the statewide winners at the NYS History Day Website. In addition to the official winners in each project category, a variety of organizations sponsor special awards. The Farmers’ Museum’s special award was presented in the Senior Historical Paper category this year. The winner was Jane Cotler from Stuyvesant High School, New York City for her paper titled Iosif Averbach: Enterprising Reformer of the Soviet Collective Farm.

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