Students exhibit research

Brian Close

With energetic students, colorful exhibits and busy judges, Coffman Union’s Great Hall looked like it played host to a science fair Saturday; in fact, it was a history contest.
A participatory, hands-on learning style was the idea behind the National History Day in Minnesota project competition.
More than 1,400 students from the sixth through 12th grades came from all parts of Minnesota to compete at the state level.
Filtered from nine regional competitions, students participated in four categories of judged competition: exhibits, presentations, research papers and media entries such as slide shows and videos.
“Each one of the formats is like real-world historical (research),” said Tim Hoogland, state History Day coordinator.
Most students competed in the exhibits category. The tabletop displays featured topics ranging from capital punishment to Hmong immigration.
Joseph Manning, an eighth-grader from Onamia, displayed pictures and stories about his ancestors’ emigration from Ireland during the potato famine of the 1850s, and the discrimination they faced in the United States.
“I wanted to know more about my family and what happened,” he said.
Miranda Spurgeon, an eighth-grader from Spring Valley, chose to do a presentation instead. Using posters, signs and costumes, Spurgeon told the story of Miriam and Anna, two fictitious Russian characters.
Miriam was a communist activist during the Bolshevik revolution, and Anna was her post-Cold War counterpart.
Ben Maegi, University coordinator for the competition, said organizers wanted students to do the work of historians.
“We want them to go through the archives, look at documents and try to interpret them,” he said.
Hoogland, a former University student, said he is excited that participation keeps growing. More than 23,000 students from around the state entered the challenge this year, up substantially from the 125 students who took part when the University began hosting the event in 1988.
The History Day contest began in Cleveland in 1974, and quickly spread through various universities throughout the nation.
Maegi said he was pleased some of Saturday’s winners — the two top entries in each category from each of two age divisions — came from schools that have not participated before.
Those students will go on to the national level competition, held at the University of Maryland in June.
“It’s very good to see students who are going to national contest for the very first time, because they get very excited about History Day,” Maegi said.