This was my first year judging the Florida History Fair, and it was a wonderful experience. Each year hundreds of middle and high school students come to Tallahassee to
compete. There are several different categories – performance, documentary, paper, web site and exhibit. This year I judged the first round of middle school web sites and the runoffs for high school web sites. What impressed me most was the great variety of subject matter! The theme this year was “Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History”. The topics that the students chose to represent this theme included everything from the Abdication of King Gustav IV is Sweden to the Model T Ford. As a judge I had the opportunity to interview each of the students who’s web site I was judging. These kids had already won their county competition in order to make it to the state level. It was great to have a chance to ask them how they decided on their topic. Many of the students had a personal connection to their topic. For example, one student’s great grandfather was one of the survivors on the U.S.S. Indianapolis, and she had the opportunity to interview survivors for her project. Another student had taken a trip to Paris with his family and became interested in the French Revolution. The students had to conduct their own research, relate their topic to the theme in some way and come up with their own conclusions through analysis of their topic. It was wonderful to see so many students excited about history!
This competition is part of National History Day, which is a yearlong educational program to get students excited about history and make history come alive. The winners of the Florida History Fair will go on to the national competition this June at the University of Maryland at College Park. At this competition students will have the opportunity to showcase various examples of revolution, reaction and reform from all over the world!
These days history education is sometimes put on the back burner, while most of the emphasis is on STEM education (Science, Technology Engineering and Math). It is
unfortunate to see history education being slighted. It is easy to understand how this occurred when you take into consideration that the results of history education are sometimes less tangible than most other subject areas. In Language Arts a student becomes more literate and learns to use proper grammar…In math a student learns skills that will allow them to keep a balanced check book and count change…in computer class a student learns how to type and navigate the internet…but what are the results of a child learning about history? Simply put, think of the old saying, “Those that do not know history are doomed to repeat it”. Today we live in a global economy, with companies conducting business all over the world and the internet connecting people from every background imaginable. Studying history offers the opportunity for students to gain a global perspective and a greater understand of humanity and society. If we relied exclusively on current information and data to understand society we would be at a disadvantage. How would we go about understanding war if our nation is currently at peace? How can we truly have an understanding of today’s technology without learning how it evolved from the past? History also gives us a greater appreciation for the rights that we have today. Individuals from the past fought for these rights, and to understand that sacrifice gives us more reason to protect these rights.
History provides us with an understanding of how things change. Anytime there is a drastic change in society today, we look to history for the answer as to why that change may have occurred. History does indeed contributes to the STEM subject areas. One student at the Florida History Fair used anesthesia as an example of revolution in medicine. Another student discussed the discovery of the HeLa Cell, and it’s uses in medicine and the implications it had on our society. One student made the bold connection of McCarthyism and how fear is used today in politics and the media. We like to think of traditional subject areas as cut and dry, categorized in their own little boxes, left to stand alone. However, in this day and age, this is no longer the case. Many subject areas cross over into other subjects and no longer can stand completely on their own. It was refreshing to see that students understand this concept and are embracing it. Archaeology is the same way. Archaeologists rely on information provided by historians, forensic scientists, architects and architectural historians, chemists and many other professionals from a wide array of backgrounds. Archaeology also contributes to those subject areas as well. It is for this reason that archaeology education, like history education, is so important. It provides us the only physical evidence of the past, and can give historians actual proof of historic events that helped to shape the world into what it is today. Archaeology can be used to get kids excited about math, science, history and other subject areas because of it’s multidisciplinary nature.
In conclusion, I encourage children and adults to learn about history. You don’t have to learn everything in a classroom either! Visit a museum or an archaeological site, or read a novel based on historical events or people. One thing that I took away from the history fair is that history is relevant and fun! Take it from me and from the thousands of students that participate in National History Day around the country, history is needed and people still want to learn about our past.