I’ve received a handful of inquires on the theme in the past couple of weeks. The most common question I am asked is, “Can I pick a group as my topic (The Beatles, the 101st Airborne, etc) and demonstrate how they should be viewed together as an individual?”
When asking this question, most people point to this sentence in the theme sheet: “History and the story of individuals and groups of individuals cannot be separated. One person does not stand alone, isolated in time, but is a product of the events and the people that came before and those who were influenced by history.”
Before I answer the question, I want to point out that the above sentence from the theme sheet is meant to stress the importance of historical context. In other words, key historical figures became prominent through the experiences they had with other people and events during their lifetimes. Therefore, when talking about your individual in history, it is important to address the people and events that influenced them. The sentence is not meant to convey that a group of individuals can be viewed as one individual.
HOWEVER, I believe very strongly that there are no taboo or “wrong” topics for History Day projects. And (in theory) I would never forbid a student from tackling a topic that he or she is passionate about. That being said, students need to weigh all the information regarding the theme to make sure their topic is a good fit. (Yes, students, I am holding you responsible for picking a quality topic! And I am going to make you decide if your idea works. It’s called critical thinking, and you’ll love me for doing this later in life, I swear!)
SO, if a student wants to do his or her project on a duo or a group, he or she can. However, they must keep in mind that 20% of the judging criteria is relating it to the theme. As long as a student can successfully argue that the Beatles or the Google Founders should be viewed as an individual, then they can go right ahead and do so.
BUT, it’s a risk to try and fit a square peg into a round hole, if you catch my drift. Taking the time to argue that your group is really an individual can take away from your core argument. And, regardless of how well you craft said argument, you still may have a trouble convincing judges who view the theme literally.
So, it all really boils down to this: If a student is motivated by winning in competition, then he or she really should pick an individual to avoid any judging pitfalls with relation to the theme. If he or she doesn’t really care about the competition, then I think he or she can get a lot out doing their project on a topic they care about.
I am sorry if this isn’t the cut-and-dry answer you were looking for. In addition to the academic learning that History Day encourages, I believe it is a great lesson in making good choices. Far be it for me to discourage a student from exploring a topic for which he or she has passion; you never know what amazing results they may create. However, I do believe in providing information to help students make smart choices.
So students, what do you think? After re-reading the theme sheet, do you really think a group can be viewed as an individual? I guess we’ll see at our competitions in March. Good luck!