National History Day

ExhibitsMarch 17, 2014

Guest blogger: Laura Steefel-Moore, Director of Volunteers & Visitor Services

As the Maltz Museum’s Director of Volunteers and Visitor Services, I was lucky enough to serve as a History Day judge this past Saturday alongside two of our dedicated volunteers, Candy and Marsha.   Each year, The Friends of the Maltz Museum gives out cash prizes to the top entrants in the Jewish History category, and in May we host a reception for the winners at the Museum.

This year, we had over fifteen eligible projects to judge in the junior and senior divisions.  The projects ranged from websites and performances to documentaries and exhibits.  No matter the format, each one was well-researched and articulately presented – and they certainly taught us a thing or two!

I had participated in History Day myself as a middle schooler, and, as the old maxim goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”   The level of technical acuity demonstrated by this year’s students far surpassed anything I would have dreamed of during my time as a competitor.  When my group wanted to ramp up the complexity of our exhibit, we had merely upgraded the material of our display board from foam-core to plywood.  The students now, however, have the option to submit their project in the form of a website, and the ones we judged were phenomenal: replete with original audio clips, music, and video with a clear graphic identity and easy-to-use interface.  It’s incredible how seamlessly students today are able to incorporate technology into their learning experiences.

The students who chose to use more traditional means of presenting their projects did excellent work as well.  Each project was a unique reflection of how this year’s theme, Rights and Responsibilities, has played out in historical events worldwide.  Every presentation space reverberated with the nervous happy buzz of harried preparation, eager presentation, and the back and forth of judges’ questions.  I remembered exactly the feeling of anxious waiting and then the giddiness of an interview gone well.  Add these heightened emotions to what is the already frenetic energy of thousands of teenagers in one place, and History Day packed quite a punch!

The competition aspect of the day aside, it was truly a privilege to spend a few hours with bright young adults who were thinking seriously about what it means to be responsible for the rights of others.  It’s always nice to be reminded that the upcoming generation of leaders knows not only how to take a selfie and use a hashtag, but also how to take itself seriously.