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History Research @ the Library

July 10, 2012

By Susan Hansen

National History Day makes history come alive for America’s youth by engaging them in the discovery of the historic, cultural and social experiences of the past. Through hands-on experiences and presentations, today’s youth are better able to inform the present and shape the future. NHD inspires youth in grades 6 though 12 through exciting competitions and transforms teaching through project-based curriculum and instruction.

Anna CookAnna, a 7th grader at Willow Creek Middle School was in an accelerated flex class in Social Studies this past school year. A requirement of the class was to prepare a History Day Project in keeping with this year’s theme of Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. The project could be presented as a website, a documentary, a paper, an exhibit or a performance.

Pondering a list from her teacher of possible projects, Anna thought Nellie Bly, a reporter famous for going around the world in 80 days, looked interesting. Laura Zeccardi, from the Minnesota State Historical Society, helped Anna and her classmates narrow their topics. She suggested Anna focus on Nellie’s entering the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island under an assumed name and doing an undercover story on the atrocities taking place in that institution. This was in 1887, a time in history when people were reacting to the horrors taking place in hospitals and instituting reforms.

Anna decided to do a website as it allowed her to use pictures, music, and movement to illustrate her story.
Having to find primary sources from the 1800’s was the hardest part of Anna’s research. A primary source is the “original”–done by the people involved at the time being studied. It could be a literary or philosophical work, an historical document, first hand newspaper or magazine accounts, the report of original research, original data, a photograph, a speech, letters, pamphlets, posters, eyewitness accounts, diaries or journals, or official records. With help from the Rochester Public Library staff at a History Hullabaloo Event, Anna learned about the historic New York Times that had stories from the 1800’s on Nellie’s experiences. Staff also helped her access an on-line copy of the book that Nellie wrote describing her experience. One of Nellie’s greatest worries was getting out after being committed. A lawyer from the New York Times had to intervene to get her released.

For inspiration, Anna was able to view previous project winners from the National History Day (NHD) site. She used Weebly, the NHD website creation tool with templates, to insert her photos, music, and information.

Anna entered her project in the Junior Individual website category at the regional contest held in Winona in the spring. A winner there, she was able to compete in the State History Day competition. Between each competition she was able to refine her project with assistance from Laura. One frustrating aspect was trying to meet the word limits on the pages without affecting her story. Anna placed second at the state competition and was able to attend the National competition in Washington D.C.

Anna found the experience at the National competition interesting and a lot of fun. About 2,000 students from the 50 states, Guam, Shanghai, and Washington D.C. were in attendance. Students stayed at the University of Maryland Campus where the judging was held. Only the top three in each category received medals. Anna placed seventh in her room out of a dozen other students. Only the top person in each room (12 rooms total) was considered for the final ranking. All-in-all, she finished up somewhere in the middle of the ranks. When looking at the thousands of students that prepared projects to compete against, Anna was pleased with her first-time performance.

In addition to the competition, Anna and her mother were able to explore the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Air and Space Museum. She is already mulling over what she will do next year and will definitely be back to the library’s History Hullabaloo for assistance with her next project.

Anna’s website may be viewed here.

History Hullabaloo events are for students to interact with librarians and history center staff to narrow their topics and do research. In 2013, Hullabaloo dates will be Saturday, January 12 from 10 am – 3 pm and Thursday, January 17th from 4 pm – 8 pm. Watch our events calendar for more details.

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