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!

Please touch the archives!

A librarian friend of mine sent a link to a New York Times article about how archives are becoming friends of researchers and the general public by becoming more hands-on.  I wanted to share it with you all: Handle This Book!

I can’t overestimate the impact that holding a piece of history has on a person.  Frankly, it’s what got me into my current career; As a volunteer, I started cataloging objects and documents at my local history museum.  Just connecting with, say, a 1917 high school basketball poster that was found in the walls of an old house or an unpublished Civil War diary that called October 16, 1864 “a bleak day,” made me feel connected to history.  It moved me so much that I decided to go into museum studies.

My point here isn’t to share my life story, but to emphasize with you all the importance of getting off the internet and into your local museum or library.  Trust me, you will really enjoy getting your hands on the actual historical documents. 

Here are some things to keep in mind before you run out your front door:

  • Check the archive’s hours of operation before you go.  Some require you to make appointments directly with the archivist, others have limited open times.
  • Some archives require you to register with them.  Make sure you bring proper identification (a school id works).
  • Ask what the visitation rules are.  Many archives make you check your belongings at the door.  Others only let you enter with a notebook and a pencil.  For an example, check out this link to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan:
  • Do some preliminary research so you know what documents and manuscritps the archive has before you go.  This will save you time when you get there.

Most of all, have fun doing the research!

The Individual in History – Part 2

So, in my last post, many moons ago, I left you all hanging with my comment about not doing super-famous individuals as your topic.  Now I want to take a few minutes to explain why. . . .

One of the first things I learned in my Introduction to Research Methods class as college history student was this:  One of the main purposes of doing historical research is to uncover new things about the past.  

Sounds obvious, right?  Well, let’s discuss this a little further.  Historians, like scientists, work to further human knowledge.  Just as a scientist today wouldn’t spend time studying how to eradicate polio, a good historian wouldn’t want to write a simple biography on, say, George Washington.  Both polio and Washington have been all figured out already.  What else needs to be said? 

Historians are like good detectives.  They go out into the world and suss out new topics, new people, new events and share their stories with the world.  Fortunately, we live in a time where studies of ordinary men and women are valued just as much as the founding fathers.  (It’s called social history and it’s awesome.  Look into it if you want.)   

So my point is this:  It’s totally cool if you want to do a project on Martin Luther King, Jr. , or Thomas Jefferson, or someone else who’s super-famous.  While their life stories may not be knew to some of us know-it-all adults, it’s new to you.  You have to learn about these people sometime, right?  Now would be a perfect time.

However, if you’ve done History Day before and are looking for that next challenge, I encourage you to scour your history textbooks for that lesser known women’s right activitist and share her story.  Or, give a call to your local history musuem or library. Find out if there is someone in your community who made a difference in your town, county, state, or the world.  You may be surprised at what you find.  Plus, once you finish your research, you’ll be the expert on that subject.  You’ll have adults begging you to teach them. 

So I’ll leave you with a link to a perfect example of what I am talking about:

I’ll let the site speak for itself.  🙂  Talk to you all soon!

Individual in History Topic Ideas are up!

I am excited about this next year for History Day.  I think the NHD annual theme, The Individual in History, has a lot of potential.  Students can delve into an individual of their choice, and really see what made them heroic, and what held them back.  We are all human, even our national heroes, and this a a great opportunity for you students to take biography to the next level.

What “next level” am I talking about?  Well, I am talking about the need with the History Day program for analysis in all projects.  This means that students will have to provide more than just the who, what, how, and when about their person.  The key is going to be showing the “why.”  Why was this person important to history?  Why is this person so well known to history, or alternatively, why isn’t this person as well known as others in history?  Why should we remember these people?  You get my drift. 

I will post more on the theme later in the summer.  Today I just wanted to share with you that our annual list of topics is up on the website.  I am really pleased with what we came up with.  You can check out the list in detail here:

The list is New York-centric.  Every person on it made an impact on New York history in one way or another.  You don’t have to do a New York topic, but I really wish you would.  I think exploring your local and community history is a fantastic way to connect with the past in a meaningful way.  I always thought it was so cool when I found significant history in my neighborhood.  Contact your local library and historical societies to see who you’ve got in your backyard. 

And that’s all I want to say today.  I will be back later in the summer to try to explain why you may not want to choose someone really famous to do, like Martin Luther King, Jr., or George Washington.  But for now I will leave you hanging on that.  Better still, maybe you all can figure out why I would make such a nasty statement. 🙂 

Have a great holiday weekend!