This is the end, my only friend, the end

Wellllll, it should come as no surprise to any of you that I am a horrible blogger. My intentions are good, I promise! But I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t go on doing this alone. I need help. . . .

Sooooo, I am pleased to report that we (and by we, I mean the entire NYS History Day staff) have started a new blog where we will all post. On a regular basis. I promise.

So, I am sad to say that this blog will be shutting down. I will keep it up for a while, but no new content will be added.

Check out our new blog at:



National History Day!

It’s National History Day, and today the Senior Division entries are being judged. Yesterday was Junior Division day and the project quality was amazing. We are posting our photos on our Facebook Page and Flickr Photostream as quickly as we can, so you can watch the progress.

Today I wanted to share with you a wonderful commendation that National History Day received from Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. On Wednesday, June 15 he said:

“My congratulations to National History Day, a project in its 30th year of making history come alive for students and teachers. The thousands of students, parents and teachers who will convene at the University of Maryland are a strong indication that the study of history continues to attract bright young minds from every corner of our nation. This year’s theme – the individual in history – is especially noteworthy because it has enabled students to examine the unique men and women who contributed so much to the shaping of American and world history. To all the students, teachers and parents, and to the staff members of National History Day who conduct this extraordinary competition each year, I extend my best wishes for another successful National History Day.”

Thank you very much, Secretary Duncan! We appreciate your kind words and support!

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Again, I have been remiss in my blog posting duties. This time I blame it on all the amazing things John and I have been doing to prepare for this year’s NHD competition. Also, we are already brainstorming ways to make next year’s program better than ever.

But today, That History Day Guy and I are sitting at the Albany airport, waiting for thunderstorms to clear in Baltimore so we can fly down for a professional conference.

This conference is pretty exciting. It’s for the Teaching with Primary Sources program by the Library of Congress. What is that, you ask? Well, I pulled this quote right from the website: “The Teaching with Primary Sources Program works with colleges and other educational organizations to deliver professional development programs that help teachers use the Library of Congress’s rich reservoir of digitized primary source materials to design challenging, high-quality instruction.”

John wrote a grant earlier this year to help us fund a project that gets more teachers involved in History Day. We were funded by Waynesburg University, which is the Eastern Region recipient of LoC funds. They, in turn, granted us funding as a sub-recipient. (Yes, it’s confusing!)

Anyhoo – We are traveling to D.C. to get trained up on how to use Library of Congress resources to make History Day in New York State better. Once we get home, we are going to start offering new professional development opportunities to New York’s History Day teachers. So, keep your eyes peeled. Details will follow soon.

Oh! I have to run; our flight is getting ready to board. Looks like we might just get there after all.

Copyright, Fair Use, and History Day

In this day and age, especially since the downfall of Napster and other online file-sharing services, the issue of copyright is front and center. For History Day, we tend to sweep this consideration under the rug under by claiming that our educational program falls under “Fair Use.” Certainly, in most cases it does. But it can never hurt to arm ourselves with a better understanding of copyright guidelines.

This whole topic came up recently on the NHD H-net listserv, and as usual, I have been quietly monitoring the discussion and learning. I want to share with you an email that came through from Dr. E. Haven Hawley, Acting Director and Program Director at the Immigration History Research Center in Minneapolis, MN. It’s an excellent source for information on copyright, and is worth reading:

“You can incorporate selected material under the Fair Use doctrine. This involves judging the intent of the user and the purpose, the nature of the work, the amount of material used, and the impact of the use on the market (including commercial value). See the Copyright Office for more information on this:

Using materials that are copyrighted is a risk assessment. Music that is licensed by (by ASCAP [American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers], say) is much more likely to be prosecuted if more than a bit (really tiny bit) is used. This is because there is a strong likelihood that any use will reduce the actual market for the song (or that’s what ASCAP would argue in court). Assume that all materials are copyrighted; registration (and the copyright notice) just means that they can recover legal fees in addition to have the right to sue.

Anything produced by the federal government is NOT in copyright and can be used freely. So oral histories produced by the US government would tend to be a good choice for weaving into student work. Also, many repositories will acknowledge a priority for educational use of materials. How much of the original material is the student going to change? This also is an issue.

The dates and formats of materials can be placed in various charts to help guide you through knowing what definitely isn’t in copyright and in deciding what the risk of using materials is for things after 1923. See Peter Hirtle’s chart, which is the best out there:

Alright, I know: The information Dr. Hawley provides is a little, er, intense. But again, being an informed researcher, historian, and citizen is a goal of History Day. Since most History Day projects are viewed only at competitions, there is little chance that the ASCAP will come after students. However, it is never too early to understand how copyright works, expecially for you History Day students that plan to become documentarians, exhibit designers, webmasters, etc. You need to know this stuff!

YouTube as a source?

There is a great discussion going on right now on the National History Day teacher list-serv. (If you aren’t on it, consider signing up:

Basically, an inquiry came in that said this:
“I have started to proofread some bibs, and have one with an interesting source–YouTube. The topic is a Holocaust rescuer…and several of their sources are from a Survivors of the Holocaust Testimonies on YouTube. What do you think? Looking at them they seem like true valid and legitimate sources…… but my other thought is what do you think of using YouTube as a source? My first thought was absolutely not…..but then….when I first started doing NHD we were discouraged from using the internet too much. Should I recommend they leave the YouTube oral histories in their bib or take them out? I would really appreciate your opinion.”

I admit, that I didn’t instantly have an opinion on this. It was a little shocking, considering how much a rail against Wikipedia as anything other than a place to go to find background info and more legitimate sources. But then feedback starting coming in. . .

“I think contacting the folks who put it up would be the first step to legitimacy. See if there is a historian behind it,” said Ed Glassman, Denver School of the Arts.

That’s a great first step. YouTube, like Wikipedia, can be a great place to go to identify sources. It, like Google Image Search, isn’t the main source of a research tidbit.

And then this email came through from middle school teacher Mellissa B. Harvold: “If these were my students, and there was still time, I would suggest they contact the local NPR and see if their traveling Oral History recording booth had any similar stories. If they are not using the YouTube images for a documentary entry, then they could get much the same information from a more socially acceptable source. Another suggestion would be to go to the site with your students and help them look for contact information from the publisher/creator. Your students could do some backward research to request a phone or IM interview, that way they get the primary source of an interview to cite, rather than YouTube.”

Another excellent suggestion! I am curious as to what you, the teachers and students of New York State think about using YouTube as a source. Here is your chance to help me formulate my final opinion on the matter. Post your comments here. Let’s discuss!!!

ACTION ALERT! Help Support New York State History Day!

We need your help to ensure that the New York State History Day program remains strong in the years ahead!

Funding provided in the New York State Education Department budget has enabled us to expand the program over the past three years. Statewide participation has nearly tripled. Our program staff has provided National History Day curriculum materials to participating schools free of cost, increased our in-person teacher and student trainings, and developed comprehensive lesson plans and curricula.

With the current economic crisis and pending state budget cuts, the New York State Historical Association is working hard to continue the annual $180,000 in state support for the New York State History Day program. Please help us by contacting your state senator and assembly member and asking them to support New York State History Day.

Here’s how you can help:
Visit to download our Action Alert document, which provides more information and a sample letter/email that you can use to contact your local legislators.

The budget is currently under consideration, and we need your help today! Thank you for your continued support of New York State History Day!

Can I do the Beatles as my “Individual” in history?

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!