The word “history” may rouse thoughts of ancient scholars, ceaseless world wars and memorization of dates. Let these rumors be put to rest. For New Jersey middle and high school students, history was anything but boring last weekend.
Each year, New Jersey has two regional History Day contests and, on April 12, Rider played host to the Southern Regional competition.
Will Coughlin, a junior history major and History Day judge of the exhibits, said the competition gave middle and high school students a chance to demonstrate their love for history.
“[History Day] is good for the kids because it gets them interested in history and gets them to appreciate a subject that’s usually at the bottom of a student’s list of favorite classes,” Coughlin said.
Dr. Anne Osborne, chair of the History Department and professor of history, coordinated the event.
“It gave students an opportunity to act authentically like a historian,” she said. “It was a wonderfully engaging way to take academic studies into the real world.”
The competition was broken up into five categories: film documentaries, performances, Web sites, exhibits and traditional papers.
Winners advance to the state competition and, from there, to the nationals. According to the National History Day (NHD) Web site, NHD “teaches students the critical skills they need to be effective citizens in the 21st century.”
The theme of “Conflict and Compromise in History” allowed those in the competition to choose from a range of topics. From wars and treaties, to the Salem Witch Trials and Pearl Harbor, the contest served as an outlet for a creative interpretation of history.
“It was broader than you might think,” Osborne said. “They needed to address conflict, compromise or both and make an authentic and appropriate connection.”
Coughlin enjoyed himself and remembered his days in middle school.
“I liked seeing so many younger kids interested in history because when I was in middle and high school, I was the only one in the class that liked it,” Coughlin said. “[The best part of NHD] was seeing a younger generation growing up loving history that much.”
Not only did the event satisfy the younger generation of history buffs, it educated them on ways to properly research and cite historical events.
Osborne explained that students had to use primary and secondary sources, provide evidence, develop a thesis and display it.
In addition to the competition, there were also workshops offered for the middle and high school teachers interested in competing next year.
“It was a great way to engage the teachers and counselors to go beyond into critical thinking and analysis,” Osborne said.
History Day required full campus engagement from students, faculty and staff.
“I’m so grateful for all of the help and all of the time that people put in,” Osborne said. “Professors, judges, even the people in Daly’s.”
As the History Day slogan says, “It’s not just a day, it’s an experience.”