50 years of History Day

Students presented on various topics ay history day. Photo by Matthew Sotlar / The Jambar

By Matthew Sotlar / The Jambar

Youngstown State University held its 50th annual History Day across campus March 23.

History Day is a nationally-recognized non-profit organization that focuses on engaging middle and high school students in history. This year’s theme was Major Turning Points in U.S. History.

History professor David Simonelli said History Day is similar to science fairs. 

“The short end that people understand is that it’s kind of a science fair for history. Local middle school and high school kids come in and create projects either documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances or websites that are dedicated to a historical event or person,” Simonelli said.

YSU is in the fourth region of Ohio for History Day. Simonelli, who is the coordinator for the fourth region, said YSU has participated in History Day since its creation.

“YSU has been hosting it since our colleague, Martin Berger, got in touch with Case Western University, where it started in 1973 or 74. So, we’ve been actually hosting it probably longer than any other university in the country,” Simonelli said.

Documentaries, websites and performances created by high school students were on exhibit in DeBartolo Hall. 

Documentary topics included the rise of artificial intelligence and the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement. In addition to the documentaries, there was a presentation on Danish American photojournalist Jacob Riis. Website topics included the Great Depression and the Manhattan Project. 

Junior high students’ exhibits were showcased in McKay Auditorium in Beeghly Hall. Topics ranged from the Boston Tea Party, suffragist Lucy Stone, Sept. 11 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

High school students had exhibits on display at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor. These included presentations on the founder of Youngstown John Young, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton and Emmett Till, an African American boy who was lynched in 1955.

Simonelli said students with the best presentations received prizes from the university.

“Kids will get prizes from us, and the best documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances or websites will advance to the state competition. There’s 10 regions in the state. From the state competition, you go to nationals, which are in Washington D.C,” Simonelli said.

YSU history professor Brian Bonhomme acted as a judge and announcer at History Day. Bonhomme said there are specific criteria the judges search for in each presentation.

“The ability to communicate an idea in a manner that a viewer can understand what your point is when they’re only interacting with your exhibit for a few minutes is very important,” Bonhomme said. 

Simonelli said there have been multiple area contestants that have made it to the national championship. 

“I don’t know if anybody in the area has won nationals that I know of,” Simonelli said. “But we’ve had multiple people over just the time that I’ve been here make it to nationals. There are certain competitions where you stand a better chance than others.”

The state contest for History Day will take place April 20 at Capital University in Columbus. The national competition will be held in mid-June.