Day promotes a love of history for middle and high school students


By KATHERINE CLAYTON Lifestyles Editor

Historians in the making traveled across the state to the South Dakota State University campus in order to compete in the annual History Day competition.

History Day took place on Wednesday, April 22. Throughout the day middle and high school students presented their work to judges. Winners of the different categories including exhibits, documentaries, papers, performances and websites were announced at 3 p.m.

According to Carrie Van Buren, the curator of collection at the Agricultural Heritage Museum, the students chose what category they wanted to compete in and then matched their projects to the 2015 History Day theme, “Leadership and Legacy.”

The competition was split into divisions: regional, local, state and national. The competition at SDSU was at the state level.

“We have a wide range of topics, everything from local history to global history, that the kids have been working on,” Van Buren said.

The Agricultural Heritage Museum and the departments of history, political science, philosophy and religion sponsored History Day at SDSU. 

“I hope [the participants] take away a real passion for learning and for history,” Van Buren said. “That they understand that history isn’t this dry, dull stuff you read in books; history is happening all around us.” 

Chris Hummel is an instructor of history and the affiliate coordinator of South Dakota for History Day. His responsibilities as affiliate coordinator include working with the Agricultural Heritage Museum, finding the judges of the event and contacting students and teachers to participate in History Day.

Students bring their projects to the competition and are judged based on the national standards, Van Buren said. There, an experienced judge is paired with student and community member volunteers to judge the projects.

“We can’t say enough good things about the judges. The judges are just fantastic; a lot of just college students that sacrificed a day of class just because … nobody likes to do that,” Hummel said with a laugh. “We also had some faculty … and teachers, retired teachers, just a whole range of people, professionals, professional historians, museum professionals and people from the community.”

One of the judges for History Day was Chuck Vollan, an associate professor of history. Vollan has been judging since 1996 only a few years after History Day started. He judges the documentary category.

“[History Day] is a contest for people who are enthusiastic about history; they just happen to be very young,” Vollan said. “Their excitement is very contagious–they are thrilled to show you what they’ve found in their research and they want it to be fun.”

Vollan said that when he judges a student in the documentary category historical quality is worth 60 percent, meeting the yearly theme is 20 percent and how the item is put together is 20 percent. The students are split into two categories: junior and senior division. Junior division is where students in sixth to eighth grade compete. Senior division is ninth to twelfth grade. 

In addition to showing the documentary, students have a five-minute interview with the judge. During the interview, the judge tells the student what could be improved.

“[The judge is] trying to help them realize any weak points they need to work on,” Vollan said. “[The contest] is about encouraging people to do something that they love so you really work to be constructive.”

Another participant of History Day was Abigail Biastock, a junior consumer affairs major with minors in business, events and facilities administration and health communication. She is interning with the History Department for a class.

“Throughout the day I helped with all of the behind-the-scenes work to help the event run smoothly,” Biastock said. “I think that it’s great that these young students have such an avid interest in history and I hope they continue to learn and share their knowledge of history.”

The judges picked the top two contestants in each category and those individuals will then go on to the National competition in June at University of Maryland at College Park.

“History in and of itself is important and it’s an opportunity for students to develop their skills,” Hummel said. “A lot of students don’t go into it thinking about how interesting history is … so the idea [for History Day] is to encourage an enthusiasm for history and historical work and to get the students to think about that.”