Tahlequah Daily Press


April 3, 2013

Students connect with History Day

TAHLEQUAH — To convey the significance of a person or an event in history, the details have to be put into proper context.

Historians say studying the events and people of the past helps modern people understand one another and other cultures. That’s one reason Northeastern State University hosted the National History Day District 8 Contest Tuesday. The theme, “Turning Points In History,” prompted students to explain their chosen history topics.

More than 130 students from seven different schools competed in categories including research papers, group and individual exhibits, group and individual websites, group and individual documentaries, as well as group and individual performances.

Winners qualified for the State History Day Contest, expected to be held at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City in early May.

Muskogee High School history teacher Diane Walker has brought students to the  History Day contest for about 10 years. She believes students still find an interest in the past, despite the influence of today’s futuristic and virtual intentions.

“I think that even though you have all this electronic media or this instant gratification, students still love a good story, and that’s what history is – only it happened for real,” Walker said. “I have students who [come to history day] every year. The project is required in class, but to come to regionals is not required. They want to come. In fact, I have students here today who are working for the college. To me, that shows that, yes, History Day planted a seed, and yes, they’re interested. That’s neat, and this is the first year that’s happened. I’m finally getting old enough, I guess.”

Claremore High School sophomore Hailey Seago presented “The 1920s: Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” as an individual exhibit, because the era represents a time  when women began to have a voice and become more visible in society.

“I felt like it was a strong turning point in American history. It pretty much was the building block for women,” she said. “They got more education. More women got into sports. A lot of the technology we use today was started in the 1920s, like the car and the radio. And also the 1920s was the jazz age. So dancing, like the Charleston, was very popular. Women cut their hair and went on to a new look.”

Muskogee High School sophomore Logan Dean selected the computer-software company the world knows as Apple Inc. to present as an individual exhibit.

“They were a majoring turning point because they’ve changed not only the way we interact with our technology, but the way we interact in education,” he said. “The Apple II was the second line of computers that they came out with. It was the first to ever be in a school for students to interact, do reports, play games and stuff like that.”

As students remain interested in people and events that changed the course of life, NSU Professor of History Dr. Brad Agnew observed that students remain faced with the need to evolve research skills and broaden their limited perspectives.

“They tend to focus exclusively on their topic. They don’t relate it to the broader theme. Some of the students had good topics, but they didn’t relate to the theme,” he said. “I really believe in History Day. It teaches maturity. It helps the students get over the stage fright, and it really prepares them for life.”

Agnew noted its easy for a student to be a big fish in a small pond at contests like Tuesday’s, but added that with History Day, many of those big fish find themselves sharing crowded waters.

“It shows them there’s a wider world out there, and that they need to dig a little deeper and work a little harder to be the best in the bigger pond,” he said. “I think at every level, it gets more competitive.”

Agnew’s NSU history colleague, Dr. Suzanne Farmer, said exhibits she judged showed true interest in history, and she likes the direction school curriculum is expected to take.

“I think it’s good for them to have to show their work in a public forum and get them used to defending what they’re doing. The public speaking - that’s really good for them,” she said. “They don’t seem to get much social interaction other than behind a computer screen these days. [History day competitions] forces them to deal with people. They do need to investigate much further into why [the event or person they chose is] important. Put it into context.  What actually changed because of this particular event. They seem to be good at finding the information, which is true of this generation. They’re the information age, but they don’t really know how to make those connections as to why it’s so important.”

Tahlequah Middle School student Vidya Desai presented Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi as an individual exhibit. She said the History Day competition prompted her to learn more about the man she heard about from her grandmother.

“I learned the basics about him, but when I heard about the History Day competition, I decided to pursue more information and research so I could learn more about him,” she said. “I enjoy history. I enjoy learning about all the different things that happened. This [competition] is pretty nerve-racking. The judges - they ask you all these questions that you might not know the answers to.”

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