On Saturday February 23, the Johnson Center and Innovation Hall on George Mason’s Fairfax Campus swarmed with sixth through twelfth grade students who were participating in the regional History Day competition that Mason hosted as part of the National History Day program. Each student presented a history project that he or she researched during the year-long program, hoping to continue advancing in a competition that began at individual schools, will progress to state competitions, and will culminate in a national competition held at the University of Maryland at College Park in June.
Mason hosts the regional History Day competition annually, and the university’s History department has coordinated the day-long event for over twenty years. History department faculty members serve as judges for the competition, and one professor—this year it was Zachary Schrag— serves as the coordinator each year, organizing registration, facilities, food, and judges, and resolving any issues that may arise.
Students from all over northern Virginia participated in the regional competition, and the top students will move on to the state competition in Williamsburg, which is sponsored by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The students’ presentations related to this year’s National History Day theme, conflict and compromise, and were each formatted to meet the requirements of one of the seven competition categories: Individual Documentary, Group Documentary, Individual Exhibit, Group Exhibit, Individual Historical Paper, Individual Performance, Group Performance, Individual Websites, and Group Websites.
Brian Platt (History), who judged History Day for five years and coordinated it for two years before handing it off to Schrag, said that the History department’s goals in hosting the program are two-fold. The first goal is to “encourage kids who are interested in history to pursue that interest,” expanding public interest in and awareness of history. This is an important goal of the history faculty as historians; they see History Day as a way to foster interest in young people. The other goal Platt expressed is to provide a service to the university by bringing 250 young people and their families to campus. “Many people in the community live near the university but never visit campus. We see History Day as a good way to give a positive introduction to the university and to integrate the community with the university.”
Platt said that one memory in particular remains with him from his years of working with History Day. During a busy day as coordinator several years ago, he wandered into a room where presentations were taking place and saw a sixth grade girl giving a presentation. She had a three-sided display that turned to show backgrounds for three different immigrant communities, and she acted out the experience of each community.
“I was impressed by the extent to which she had researched what that experience was like and internalized it,” Platt said. “A goal of historians is to cultivate the ability to empathize with people from different times and places. It was rewarding to think that she would carry with her this ability to empathize.”
Platt expressed his gratitude to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences for offering financial support to this year’s History Day.
March 05, 2008