Students from around the state showcased history documentaries, performances and exhibits at the Montana National History Day Competition held in Helena on Saturday.
“This is a great chance for people to show their appreciation to some great students who care about Montana and its history,” said Martha Kohl, history specialist with the Montana Historical Society, which helped with the event.
The annual national event was sponsored locally by Humanities Montana, and winners from each category earned the chance to go to Washington, D.C., to compete in the National History Day in June.
Each year, more than half a million students participate in the contest. Students choose historical topics related to a theme, this year is “Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History.” The theme is chosen for the broad application to world, national or state history and its relevance to ancient history or to more recent past. This year students were asked to view history through the eyes of others.
The theme is broad enough to include many facets of history, but specific enough to encourage student analysis, helping students to understand their topic outside of its own narrative and how it connects to larger ideas, issues and events in history.
After conducting extensive research students create their exhibits, write their papers, record their documentaries or build websites. First they compete at the school level, then a regional and finally the state competition. At each step, students receive feedback from judges and are allowed to make changes before the next level.
“In my opinion that’s the beauty of the program — taking feedback and making it better,” Tom Rust, associate history professor with Montana State University– Billings said. “It’s not a one and done deal.”
Some of the exhibit topics in Helena were Disney animation, Jesse James, Dante’s Inferno and Bannack vigilantes.
Billings Central seniors Erin Robinson and Leah Emery’s exhibit was on Napoleon III. They spoke fluently and confidently about the socially progressive ruler. They told judges that Napoleon appealed to the working class and started free primary education and banished censorship.
Emery is interested in history, but says she’s not confident there’s a career in the field for her. Robinson, on the other hand, hopes to become a history teacher.
Mykenzie Oates, an eighth-grader from Billings, was bit nervous as she presented her exhibit on penicillin to the judges.
She told judges, as she fidgeted in a blue sundress, it was difficult to find the first use of the drug and her most useful source of information was the Mayo Clinic.
“I’m excited but really nervous,” Oates admitted.
The topic she picked gave her a jump start on a future career in pharmacy she said she’d like to pursue.
Reporter Alana Listoe: