Georgia Breaks Barriers via Virtual Contests

The pandemic hit Georgia during the middle of the 2020 National History Day (NHD) contest season. Since the beginning of the school year, more than 11,000 students had been researching topics and preparing documentaries, exhibitions, papers, performances, and websites related to the theme “Breaking Barriers in History.” How could contests take place when students, teachers, and judges were at home and campus buildings were closed to protect public health?

Over phone calls and Zoom meetings, the network of coordinators, educators, judges, and students came together and declared “the show must go on!”

For each level of competition, all contests were virtual. More than 100 judges and volunteers stepped up to evaluate and provide feedback so the students could refine their projects. For the first time in the history of the program, individual donors contributed the funds necessary to cover national competition registration fees for all Georgia students.

This extra support and encouragement enabled the 61 Team Georgia students to perform well nationally. Columbus High School students Eva Cheraisi and Mary C. McCoy finished sixth nationally and received the Senior Division Outstanding State Entry for their group documentary on the suffragist and philanthropist Katherine Dexter McCormick. Forty percent of the Georgia entries finished in the top third of their category nationally, making Team Georgia one of the strongest affiliates at NHD.

McCoy reflected, “As we were doing additional research for nationals, we turned to online databases like GALILEO and JSTOR. For primary sources, we relied on newspapers in Chronicling America at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and digitized materials from state historical societies.”

NHD’s 2020–2021 theme is “Communication in History.” This year’s program has relied fully on virtual and digital outreach. Co-coordinator Dr. Kevin Shirley, of LaGrange College, noted, “Through LaGrange College’s National History Day Service Seminar, we significantly expanded our virtual mentoring capability. History student mentors engaged in synchronous mentoring with NHD students across the state on a weekly basis.”

McCoy and Cheraisi are at work on a new documentary about soul musician Curtis Mayfield and the 1960s era. McCoy said, “We missed interacting with librarians and scholars during fall research roundups, but we have enjoyed talking about our project via text with history major mentors.”

NHD Georgia students Mary McCoy and Eva Cheraisi of Columbus High School

NHD Georgia students Mary McCoy and Eva Cheraisi of Columbus High School

NHD Georgia is a program of Georgia Humanities and LaGrange College, with support from individual donors.

Regional Competition Sponsors of NHDGA in 2020 were Augusta University, Bibb County and Houston County Schools, Clayton County Schools, Coastal Georgia Historical Society, DeKalb County Schools, Georgia Southwestern State University, Henry County Schools, Kennesaw State University, LaGrange College, Rockdale County Schools, Thomas County Schools, Robert Toombs Christian Academy, and University of Georgia.

Georgia Student Premieres Film at Smithsonian

Temple Lester, a student at Midtown International School in Atlanta, was among a select group of students who had their National History Day (NHD) documentaries screened by the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

NHD, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), and the Smithsonian Learning Lab selected just 35 documentary films, produced by middle and high school students nationally in the June 2020 National History Day Contest, to be featured in an online showcase. The films were selected and screened by NMAAHC staff, and premiered June 17 as a special collection of the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

In order to be selected for the showcase, students needed to address topics and stories in their documentaries consistent with the mission of the NMAAHC. Each documentary also reflected the 2020 NHD theme, “Breaking Barriers in History.”

Lester’s 10-minute documentary, Shirley Chisholm: The Good Fight, received first place in the National History Day Georgia State Contest earlier in May.