I spent the weekend in Grand Rapids, where I was a judge for Michigan History Day. Michigan History Day is much less of a production, and a bit more subterranean, than in Minnesota.* There were also many fewer younger folks serving as judges (perhaps a consequence of it being in West Michigan this year?); also, many of the judges seemed to be K-12 educators.
This year’s theme was The Individual in History, which lent itself to biographies, mostly, but I learned about some interesting folks, like the awesome Merze Tate (who, somewhat shamefully, none of us judges had ever heard of before), and Zelma Watson George. I was judging Youth Exhibits, and the fourth and fifth graders did some great research and were very passionate about their projects and about primary sources.
This was both the most exciting part about History Day and the most frustrating. Everyone, even the 9 and 10 year olds, needed to consult primary sources in their research. This, of course, required learning what a primary source is. Sometimes it didn’t sink in; a student told us that their primary source was wikipedia, meaning the one they used most. Ah well. Unfortunately, this kind of discourse meant that I spent a decent amount of the morning defending wikipedia to my fellow judges.
As usual, I was energized and excited by the enthusiasm of these nascent public historians.
*Backstory: History Day is like science fair for history; ages 9 up; I usually judge exhibits, which are three-fold posterboards like at science fairs.