What we can learn from National History Day

Lessons from the largest history competition in the world.

On February 16, KIS participated in the annual National History Day Competition at Cheongna Dalton School. Since 2012, international schools in Korea have hosted the regional contest, in which the top two winners from each category advance to the national level competition in Maryland.

Competition categories include research paper, documentary, website, performance, and exhibit; excluding the strictly individual research paper, all categories can be done in either a group or individual.

Year and year again, what is fascinating about National History Day is its power to make you reexamine history. It forces you to delve deep into topics you may have touched upon in class, but haven’t delved deep into the nuances, perspectives, and even controversies that surround them. After all, history is interpretable and easily malleable, right?

If considering participating in NHD, here are five things that a participant can take away in the course of conducting research, forming an argument, and applying knowledge in a chosen presentation category.

It’s easier when it’s closer to your heart
It’s a hundred times easier to talk about and debate on a topic chosen out of true interest and passion. That genuine curiosity and drive to seek out the truth is what can make a project stand out. Don’t just choose the Great Schism as a topic because of a passing recollection from a World History class. Choose the topic that reflects personal personality, interests, and experiences.

How to form your own opinion
This is a particularly important one because of the political climate we live in today. Especially if selecting a contentious topic, a project will have to work with sources that directly contradict and oppose each other. There will be angry, obscene remarks in the comment sections of Youtube videos related to the topic, and the research could be stuck at a crossroads—where it is not clear which route the research should take. Through this dilemmas, those taking part in NHD will learn to review the evidence presented and develop skills to discern the best path forward. Not everything is written in stone!

How to manage your time
The theme for the 2019 contest was released in July of 2018, just a month after the national competition in June, so there’s little excuse to put off working on the project until the last few weeks or days. There will be SATs and various tests and projects sandwiched between the summer of 2018 and the due date in January, which means participants had to be extra vigilant with managing their time. It takes several weeks to finalize the topic, several months to finish the research, and another few months to work on the project of choice. There’s an important lesson to be learned here about how to set deadlines and keep oneself accountable that can be applied to future long-term projects.

How to defend yourself
A large part of NHD is forming arguments through research. Here comes the part where you defend it. During the question and answer session with the judges, participants are bombarded with a slew of questions about their argument, flaws, and opposing viewpoints. The job is to reject the opinions you disagree with, concede to opponents who have a case, and reaffirm your own thesis.

How to combine your skills
History, filmmaking, graphic design; for me, NHD was an opportunity to combine all the things that I love doing, and allowed me the creativity to do whatever I wanted with it. Rarely do we see this kind of unbridled freedom in the classroom. It’s important to learn how to tie in talents with each other and utilize them to the fullest extent. If you like web design, make a website. If you’re a theater kid, do a performance. There’s something for everyone in NHD.

NHD is not going to be unquestionably good for everyone, and people will take away different things from the competition than others. However, if you have a passion for any of the categories that NHD offers, the competition is worth trying. Some may be turned off by the “H” in NHD, but it will be another outlet to express your creativity while building on essential skills that will be useful both in and outside the classroom for years to come.

– Charles Park (’20)

Featured Image: Corona-Norco Unified School District

Leave a Reply