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National History Day Awarded National Humanities Medal

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On Monday, February 13, 2012, National History Day received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. National History Day Executive Director, Dr. Cathy Gorn accepted the award on behalf of all those involved with the program—including The National WWII Museum.

National History Day’s selection marks the first time a K-12 education program received the National Humanities Medal.  The citation credits National History Day as “a program that inspires in American students a passion for history. Each year more than half a million children from across the country compete in this event, conducting research and producing websites, papers, performances, and documentaries to tell the human story.”

The National WWII Museum sponsors National History Day in Louisiana by hosting and organizing a series of contests and supporting Louisiana’s National Contest qualifiers. In addition, the Museum serves as a resource for all students working on World War II-related projects. This year we have hosted NHD students from as far away as Indiana, and even conducted an interview with a student in Singapore!

In Louisiana, the Museum has begun to see the benefits of this program. Last year, six students from Southwood High school in Shreveport who weren’t thinking about college advanced to the National Contest. According to their teacher, each one began applications this year after experiencing, and succeeding in, high level academic work.

Dr. Gorn said she is as proud of the National History Day winners as she is of the students who find a way to improve their education overall through their participation in the yearly program.  She cites two remarkable examples in the last few years:

Along with their teacher, three students from Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois helped change history in the famous “Mississippi Burning” case.  The students selected the 1964 murders of civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi as their National History Day Project, creating a documentary that presented important new evidence and helped convince the state of Mississippi to investigate, reopen the case and convict Edgar Ray Killen for the murders.

 A special education student, whose former principal believed could not learn, created a documentary for National History Day as part of his history class, the only mainstream class he took.  His first National History Day project went to the state finals, and in his second year of participation, he was a finalist in the annual contest.  That same student was able to transition to all honors classes, with much of his progress attributed to the critical thinking and analysis skills he learned in developing National History Day projects.

The National Humanities medals honor achievements in history, literature, education and cultural policy. In addition to National History Day, this year’s honorees included Kwame Anthony Appiah, John Ashbery, Robert Darnton, Andrew Delbanco, Charles Rosen, Teofilo Ruiz, Ramón Saldívar and Amartya.  In 1990, the late historian Dr. David Van Tassel won the predecessor to the National Humanities Medal – the Charles Frankel Prize – for his role as founder and president of National History Day.  

 This post by Louisiana History Day Coordinator Nathan Huegen

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