Defining Compromise

This year’s History Day theme, like last year’s Triumph and Tragedy, is a two-parter.  However, unlike last year students had to incorporate two differing perspectives of one topic, this year’s Conflict and Compromise seems to be a little less distinct.  

I don’t think any of us have a problem finding conflicts in human history.  But what exactly is compromise, and where can we find it?  According to our friends at Merriam-Webster, compromise is the “settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.”  Er, ok.  In other words, we can say that compromise is an agreement that doesn’t make either group completely happy, but content enough to live with it.  Ok, that makes sense, right?  Now how do we find this sort of thing in history?  

I think we all can agree that this definition of compromise is a little “out there.”  What I mean is, it just seems really conceptual/brainy and not at all real.  Do you know what I mean? 

I think That History Day Guy has a good plan.  He suggests breaking down the concept of compromise into tangible sub-themes, like political, social, religious, economic, and personal.  This can make it easier to find compromises in historical conflict.  For examples, political compromise happens when representatives from two countries meet and make agreements about things like war and arms control.  Social compromise occurs between two social groups, such as the 19th century women’s rights movement that slowly gained some rights for women but not complete equality.  Religious compromises, like the continual accords between Israel and Palestine, and economic compromises, which many topics in labor history involve, also exist.  

That History Day Guy also points out personal compromises can make very compelling History Day topics.  Have you ever had to sacrifice (or compromise) something you wanted right now for something better in the long run?  (I have a feeling that there is a video game console analogy in here somewhere, but I can’t find it.) With personal compromises, a person may have to compromise his or her beliefs and principals in the short term to make a long-term goal more achievable.  I think a good example of this type of compromise is Booker T. Washington.  As an influential African-American leader in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he was criticized for seeming to accommodate segregation and racism.  Washington felt that equality was a goal that had to be reached slowly, and to demand immediate civil rights would be dangerous and deadly for Southern Blacks.  Instead, he encouraged change within the existing social and political system.  In essence, Washington had to compromise his principles to make long-term change happen in what he felt was the most appropriate manner.  

If you have a favorite historical conflict, take some time to break it down into one of these types of conflict and compromise and you may find it easier to approach.  Good luck!


1 Response to “Defining Compromise”

  1. 1 Karl Blendell March 18, 2008 at 10:41 pm


    I am writing in response to your blog.
    I was reading the following entry :

    Defining Compromise
    This year’s History Day theme, like last year’s Triumph and Tragedy, is a two-parter.  However, unlike last year students had to incorporate two differing perspectives of one topic, this year’s Conflict and Compromise seems to be a little less distinct.  

    You seem to be indicating that the theme from last last year required students to incorporate BOTH triumph AND tragedy.

    This is not correct.

    The NHD website and written materials from last year state the following:

    “For national History day 2007, students are encouraged to select an individual, idea or event and demonstrate how and why their topic was a triumph and/or a tragedy in history.”

    Note the last segment , AND/OR .

    I emphasize this point because I am aware of 2 specific examples where judges wrote on written evaluation forms that a student did not address both a tragedy and an triumph. I was disappointed and concerned about this because it appears that some judges were under the impression that both elements needed to be addressed. This is not true ! As a result some students were improperly evaluated. This is a point of significant concern given the time commitment that some students commit to the project. In some cases this might entail hundreds of hours of work !

    How are judges trained on the regional, state and local levels to ensure that they fully aware of the contest rules and themes and that they themselves have adequate background in the discipline ?

    As far as this year’s theme the rules for conflict and compromise are virtually identical to last years. “Students may choose to focus on a conflict or a compromise, but if the topic includes one as well as the other, the student needs to address both sides of the theme.”

    Hopefully, students, teachers, AND judges will all have a very clear understanding of this year’s theme.

    Thank you for your attention I look forward to your reply.


    Karl Blendell

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