Yesterday, the team members of the National History Day program answered some questions related to the 2011 theme. Here are the questions and their answers!
Is there a minimal number of years the topic must be? 10 years old? 20 years old?
It depends on the topic, but the general rule of thumb is that a generation must have passed, or 25 years.
Is it okay for a student to focus on a person involved in a major revolution and reform? Two years ago, students were encouraged NOT to focus on the innovator for the innovation theme.
The person who is a leader can be part of the research but the research should not have the person as the focal point. This year’s theme is Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. The research should be on the event.
Would the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin fit in this theme?
Penicillin would be a good topic. Make sure you build the context of why the discovery of penicillin was discovered at this particular time and place in history. What was going on socially, politically, economically…? Think about how you will connect it to the theme. Are you looking at the discovery of penicillin as a revolution, or a reaction or a reform? Did it have an immediate impact and promote long term change?
Is the theme on U.S. history or can it be world history?
Yes, you may certainly choose a world history topic. National History Day is about local, state, national and world history topics.
Can website projects add video clips?
Yes, web site entries can have video clips. Please review the NHD Rule Book, pages 19-21.
*During this discussion, we are focusing on the 2012 theme, Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. Please refrain from asking unrelated questions at this time.*
Does the project have to be about a war or any other revolution, for example, the video game revolution?
Revolution does not mean just war- think about the food revolution, the fashion revolution, an economic revolution… Please encourage your students to look at all types of revolution. A great research project always explores impact and change. When we look at the video game revolution it is really too soon to see what long term change will occur because of video games. A great research project has many secondary sources to support the primary sources. Historians have not written enough secondary resources on video games to make it a viable research topic yet.
I’d like to know if a battle, such as one of the many in the Civil War, could be counted as a topic. I have had some students ask me. I could see that the Civil War would be a revolution, although of course too big a topic, but what about the Battle of Gettysburg, etc.?
A battle is not a good topic for this theme unless new military tactics were used to reform the way war was fought. The Battle of Gettysburg would be a great one for next year’s theme; Turning Points in History.
It says on the “Theme Sheet,” that a project does not need to cover all three words of the theme equally. Is a project that mainly addresses “Revolution” and “Reaction” stronger than a project that mostly covers “Reaction” and “Reform?”
No word is weighted. The key to matching the topic to the theme is the articulation by the student. Make sure students are able to state why the research project fits the theme and provide the evidence.
What is the difference between a “revolution” and simply, a big change? Can something be a “revolution” if it is simply something new? Thus, is an innovation or invention a revolution?
Think about long term change. How many people did it impact and how significant was the change?
Can the “Revolution” be a “Reaction?” ie. A revolution occurred as a reaction to…
Yes. Almost every Revolution begins with a reaction.
If something is “revolutionary,” such as an invention, does that make it inherently, a “revolution?”
Yes, an invention can be revolutionary. The key here is what is the long term impact and how did the invention change the course of history?
Should projects address all three parts of the theme?
No. Certain topics will lend themselves well to addressing all parts and others will be directly related to one word in the theme. The judges will be listening for the how well the student(s) articulates why the research topic fits the theme.
What about the change in the US public educational system from being only for the wealthy or lucky to being available to all? What about smaller, more specific topics related to teaching, such as the change in language education from audio-lingual to content-based?
You will need to narrow the topic and think of a time that there was a revolution in education. For example, Title IX or when girls were allowed to enter higher education… is this a revolution or reform? Why did the change take place at a certain time in history?
I have a student interest in the broad topic of Animal Rights. I am not sure if there is a sub-topic that fits the theme. I am wondering if I should re-direct to a different topic?
That is a very broad topic. The student should consider what aspect of, or event involving animal rights would be revolutionary, a reaction, or cause reform? What about the history of PETA or the humane society, as a reaction to animal cruelty.
I have a student interested in rocketry as a general topic. Would perhaps the space race or the invention of rocketry fit within the theme?
Perhaps the student could focus on some aspect of a reaction to an event in space history. For example, the U.S. reaction to the Soviet launch of Sputnik or safety reforms of the Space Shuttle program in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster.
What are your suggestions for a student that is interested in a topic with a pro-life theme?
If the student is interested and wants to be informed about the topic, and can find a strong connection with the theme, then it is a good topic for that student. My suggestion would be to thoroughly research both sides. The student should understand that National History Day is not a forum to convert peers, teachers and judges to one way of thinking about topics, but a rigorous research program.
As we work with students’ thesis statements, would you say that a topic is more effective if there is a direct link between the revolution, or reason for revolution, and the reform? For example, the revolutionary group accomplishing what it set out to change would be stronger than the indirect outcomes?
Students are not required to address revolution, reaction AND reform. If they choose to do so, direct outcomes are certainly relevant to a topic about revolution, but indirect outcomes may be relevant as well and may provide additional context and address the significance and impact of the overall topic.
I have a student that is presently working with a person that has done several major reforms. Any suggestions on whether they should cover all the reforms or just one of them? If one reform, what ideas do you have to help them figure out the best one?
Yes, focus on one reform. I would ask the student which reform he/she is interested in? Then have the student begin to think about how the reform fits with the theme. How will the reform answer the questions about immediate impact and long term change? And I would check to make sure there are enough secondary sources on the specific reform to justify a full historical research project.
We want to focus on a project with the theme of special education. Would this be revolution, reaction, or reform?
The reform was likely caused by a reaction, but it depends on what your specific topic is and how you approach it.
Let’s say a student’s topic only addresses 2 aspects- i.e. Reaction and reform. How would you suggest they craft their Thesis statement? Would they then need to address in their process paper why the focus covered only 2 aspects?
Students are only required to address one part of the theme: revolution, reaction or reform. Some projects can be linked to more than one. Some cannot – and that’s fine. For the thesis statement, it is best to clearly state what the student is studying and how it links to the theme. “The 1960 sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina were an important reaction to civil injustice because they were organized at grassroots level, were non-violent, and gained national attention.”
In general, many students have a broad idea of topics. How do you advise helping narrow down and focus topics and supporting them to direct towards the theme?
I would have lots of time to discuss with the students what each word in the theme means. Can a revolution be political? Can it be economic? Can it be cultural? What are some examples of each? Have the students go on a hunt and make a list of all the possible topics they can find in the textbook under each word. Use the sample topic list and the theme book. Assign five different topics to three students each class period. The students need to reseach the topic on the internet just to say two or three words how it fits into the theme. Have fun with topics!
Would the impact of Steve Jobs fit in this theme? He was a man who revolutionized technology and he just passed away. Would he also be considered as history?
This question provides the opportunity to encourage topics that are not recent. Fifty years from now, a student might consider Steve Jobs as a topic for NHD. For now, his contributions are too recent to allow historical perspective. It is difficult to step back in order to see the significance of the topic or the impact over time. In general, good topics for NHD are those that are complete and 25 or more years old.
My topic is based on a person who has done many things in his lifetime. When I do my project do you have any suggestions on wether presenting all the things he has done or just touch on one thing and try to make it bigger and bolder than the other things he has done?
It is best to relate your project to the theme as closely as you can. So if your subject did many things, but they all fit one part of the theme, you can cover his or her entire life if you want to. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was best known for his Civil Rights work. So you could talk about Dr. King’s life as a reaction to the injustice he encountered in American society. Or, if you are researching someone like Benjamin Franklin, you might choose to focus on one aspect of his life (if you want to!). Franklin was an inventor, a diplomat, a scientist, and a philosopher, among other things. You could just focus on how Franklin’s scientific research produced revolutionary changes in society, or perhaps how Poor Richard’s Almanac was a reaction to American life.