History lessons: NEO students compete in regional History Day, 66 to go on to state event

On Saturday, March 4, 435 students from Northeast Ohio schools presented 250 projects in the Region 3 Ohio History Day at the Cleveland History Center of the Western Reserve Historical Society to share their thoughts, research, and interpretations around the 2023 theme “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas.”

“History Day is kind of like a science fair, but the projects are based on historical research,” says Mary Manning with the Western Reserve Historical Society and Region 3 Ohio History Day coordinator. “The topics are always vague, so if you’re a kid who is really into baseball, or you’re a kid who is into Russia, you can compete.”

The students competed individually or on teams in the junior (middle school) or senior (high school) divisions to present their research findings in paper, exhibit, documentary, website, or performance formats.

It took 100 volunteer judges to assess the projects, Manning says, with 66 individuals and team members placing in the top three in each category (the top seven in the exhibits category) to go on to the state competition at Ohio at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio on Saturday, April 22.

Manning says many of the students came up with unique projects. For instance, she says the junior team of Alan Miller and Ellen Zhang from Mayfield Middle School made an exhibit, “How the Sinking of the Titanic Led to a Whole New Frontier of Safety Precautions” that had the front of a bathtub built into the display. “It covered the safety changes that came about as a result of the sinking,” she comments. “It’s always fun to see a 2D board made into 3D.”

Manning says she was also impressed with the students’ attention to current events, such as the war in Ukraine or responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m always impressed by the kids who seized on something happening in the news in 2023,” she says.

For instance, Joshua Gordon, who attends Birchwood School of Hawken, won first place in the junior division for his documentary “The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906: Exploring the Lawless Frontier of Food and Drug Regulation.”

“It was about the regulatory way the government worked in verifying the vaccines,” Manning says,“ and the law that tells your what you’re putting into your body.”

Additionally, nine organizations sponsored special prizes related to each of their specialties in a historical field or to their geographic location. Those organizations included Cleveland Grays Armory Museum, Early Settlers Association of , Friends of , International Women’s Air and Space Museum, Shaker Historical Society, Western Reserve Society Sons of the American Revolution, Oberlin Heritage Center, and Shaker Heights Public Library.

Manning says the students participating in History Day report that the judging is actually their favorite part of the competition. “A lot of kids say the interview is the best part of the project,” she says, “because the judges are adults who are not teachers or parents—they’re people they don’t see every day.”

Founded in Cleveland in 1974, National History Day is a project-based learning experience for students in grades six through 12 that builds college and career skills for the 21st Century by making the historical past relevant to the present and the future. Winners at the Ohio History Day competition go on to compete at the National History Day in Washington, D.C.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.