Minnesota’s brightest students focus on dark side of past for History Day

/ 30 April 2012 / jennifer

Alleen Brown, Twin Cities Daily Planet, April 30, 2012 –

Mankato West sophomores John Haley, Kennedy Maker and Paul Esslinger (from left) will go on to nationals in the senior group exhibit category. (Photos by Alleen Brown)

Revolution, Reaction, Reform was the theme of this year’s History Day, and the projects on display in the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union represented the range of violent topics that such a category invites.

“The Revolutionary Use of the Gas Chamber,” “Apartheid – the Struggle Continues,” and “Boom! An Explosion of Terror” were just a few of the projects on display April 29. Milder themes, like Sesame Street, Spam and the history of air conditioning, were far from uncommon, but, unsurprisingly, uprisings, wars and tragedies abounded.

Every spring, state History Day, sponsored by the U of M and the Minnesota Historical Society, brings young historians to the Twin Cities from the far reaches of greater Minnesota.

This year, sixth through 12th graders from more than 100 schools created 275 tabletop exhibits, 200 documentaries, 150 performances, 58 web sites and 28 research papers that topped regional and school competitions to qualify for state. Two entries from each category will make it to June nationals in Washington D.C. (See list of winners at end of article.)

Projects were judged based on historical accuracy, research methods, relevance to the theme, aesthetics and clarity.

Phoebe Courant (left) and Tori DeRosa (right) and Giles Corey (under the pile of rocks)

Chisago Lakes Middle School seventh graders Phoebe Courant and Tori DeRosa chose to document the Salem witch trials of 1862. Their towering display was accented by a diorama of a man being crushed by rocks — a French torture technique that took two days to kill poor Giles Corey, whose head, in this case, had been sawed off a statue that the girls found at a thrift store. Corey was executed after refusing to enter a plea of witch or not witch to Salem officials. Legend says he still haunts the town, appearing in advance of catastrophes.

DeRosa said that if she could go back in time to any historical period, she’d pick Salem 1862, a surprising response given inhabitants’ penchant for persecuting anyone unusual, likely including travelers from the future. She’d stay just a day and then probably get scared and leave.

Jacob Comstock’s Tiananmen Square project

Jacob Comstock, a sixth grader at St. Joe’s in Grand Rapids, built his exhibit around the Tiananmen Square Protests. A scattering of old shell casings he found in a gravel pit near his home recalled the shots fired by the Chinese government at university student protestors on June 4, 1989.

He would definitely not travel back to that period of China’s history — too scary. Instead, he likely would pick the U.S. Civil War years. It would be interesting to see how soldiers battled back then and what weapons they used. He had a great-grandpa in that war.

As Cook County Middle School eighth graders Will Seaton and Roman Schnobrich put together their project on the migrant worker rebellions of the 1960s, they were appalled by images of the shacks that farmworkers used to live in and by the proliferation of child labor in the fields, which they learned still exists today on a smaller scale.

Seaton would love to see all of his now dead or retired favorite bands perform live in the 1970s. Schnobrich thinks it would be cool to visit the depression. Not fun – but cool.

Mankato West High School sophomores Dyllan Sowers and Miki Mir didn’t taste spam once as they profiled the canned meat. They would both like to drop in on World War II.

Why this gravitation towards hungry and violent times? “Because it’s SO cool!” said DeRosa. The Daily Planet suspects that she may feel differently after she’s been buried under a pile of rocks for two days.

Entrants in the web site category used music, graphics and video to create interactive history projects. Click through to see websites created by the winners in that category:

Junior Individual Web Site

Kamran Kelly
Capitol Hill Magnet School, St. Paul
“The Original Ballers”

Anna Cook
Willow Creek Middle School, Rochester
“Nellie Bly: Undercover at Blackwell’s Island”

Junior Group Web Site

Anisa Carlson, Alexis Ihrig
Lake Harriet Community School, Minneapolis
“Operation Ajax: The Fall of Democracy the Rise of Radical Islam”

Geetanjali Rajamani, Ekaterina Hofrenning
Capitol Hill Magnet School, St. Paul
“Norman Borlaug: Pitic 62 and Wheat Production”

Senior Individual Web Site

Ana Schaff
DeLaSalle High School, Minneapolis
“The Freedom Rides of 1961”

Madeline Lee
Spring Lake Park L.A. Lighthouse, Spring Lake Park
“The May Fourth Movement: Revolutionizing the Culture of China”

Senior Group Web Site

Monica Nelson, Billy Menor
Homeschool-John Paul II, Minneapolis
“Failed Reforms: The White Revolution’s Lasting Reactions”

Bridget Farrell, Neal Billig, Morgan Lieske, Joe Vitt
DeLaSalle High School, Minneapolis
“Armenian Genocide: The Extermination of a Race”
(Warning: graphic images)

And the rest of the winners:

Junior Individual Exhibit

Anselma M. Lopez
Seward Montessori School, Minneapolis
“The Factory Act of 1833: Reform of Child Labor in England”

Grace Gardner
Cyber Village Academy, St. Paul
“The Meiji Restoration: A Political Revolution”

Junior Group Exhibit

Brittany Blazar, Elena Berman
Breck School, Golden Valley
“The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire”

Melanie Blazar, Halcyon Brown, Cassidy Yueh
Breck School, Golden Valley
“Power Over Pain: The Anesthetic Revolution”

Senior Individual Exhibit

Brittany Woodke
Jackson County Central Middle School, Lakefield
“Women in the War: We Can’t Win Without Them”

Caitlin Hansen
Chatfield Public Schools, Chatfield
“The Flushing Remanstrance”

Senior Group Exhibit

Samuel Gearou, Joshua Gearou
Elk River Community Education, Elk River
“New York Newsboys Strike of 1899”

Kennedy Maker, John Haley, Paul Esslinger
Mankato West High School, Mankato
“Shays’ Rebellion: An Insurrection that Revolutionized American Government”

Junior Individual Documentary

Kylie Noonan
Sunrise Park Middle School, White Bear Lake
“Executive Order 9066”

Maddie Pavek
Friedell Middle School, Rochester
“She’s Got Game: Title IX Changes the Face of Athletics”

Junior Group Documentary

Mclean Cozine, Maleko Lattin-McCrary
Anwatin Middle School, Minneapolis
“Susan Kowalski”

Anna Kleven, Nora Sylvestre, Natalie Tufvesson
Seward Montessori School, Minneapolis
“The Romanian Revolution: A Ten Day Reaction to Decades of Corruption”

Senior Individual Documentary

Molly Nemer
W St. Paul-Mendota-Eagan Sch Dist #197
“Opening Levittown: Moving the First Black Family into America’s Second Suburb”

Jennifer Mailee Lor
Open World Learning Community, St. Paul
“Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School: Educating Revolutionaries for Social Reform”

Senior Group Documentary

Becky Norling-Ruggles, Frances Matejcek, Grace Palmer
South High School, Minneapolis
“Cold War in a Hot Place: CIA Intervention in Guatemala”
Conner Youngren, Isaac Greenwood, Jonah Resnick
St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park
“Leni Riefenstahl’s Revolutionary Film Work”

Chisago Lakes seventh grader Jamie Lien qualified for nationals in the performance category. Here she is as Florence Nightingale.

Junior Individual Performance

Madison Grady
Capitol Hill Magnet School, St. Paul
“Title IX: Reforming Women’s Rights”

Jamie Lien
Chisago Lakes Middle School, Chisago Lakes
“The Lady with the Lamp”

Junior Group Performance

Amelia Heusinkveld, Cara Meyer
Robbinsdale Middle School, Robbinsdale
“The Revolution of Silent Films to Talkies: How the Movie The Jazz Singer Reformed the Film Industry”

Hope Piepkorn, Austyn Otten, Tomas Piepkorn, Kit Piepkorn
CHOF School, St. Paul
“Munsingwear: Revolutionizing Your Underwear”

Senior Individual Performance

Maggie Schmidt
“Going Ballistic: The Case that Revolutionized the American Courtroom”

Hannah Myers
Northland Jr./Sr. High School, Remer
“Martin Luther and the Reformation of the Catholic Church”

Senior Group Performance

Gabe Bichinho, Emma Weisner, Bessie Bulman, Luke Von Eschen
St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park
“May 1968 Paris: A Reaction to France for the Reform of Rights ”

Kathleen Piepkorn, Autumn Scheeler, Haven Eckman
CHOF School, St. Paul
“The Revolutionary Bob Dylan: The Rebel Who Refused a Cause”

Junior Paper

Ruby Sutton
Laura Jeffrey Academy, St. Paul
“Paragraph 175 & the Pink Triangle: The Nazi Revolution Against Homosexuality ”

Kellie Frost
Friedell Middle School, Rochester
“The Estonian Singing Revolution: A Peaceful Reaction to a Violent History”

Senior Paper

Abigail Norling-Ruggles
South High School, Minneapolis
“Radio Revolution: Communication Warfare in World War I”

Tasha Holtman
South High School, Minneapolis
“Nobody’s Business?: American Child Protection Becomes a Public Responsibility ”