Young people fascinated with history

May 23, 2013|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • Washington County Historical Society interns include, from left, Katie Noll, Patrick McGowan, Miranda Downey, Anna Cueto and Janina Wiles. Not pictured are Mary Kavanagh and Katie Kitner McGowan.
Submitted photo

History is for old fogeys, right? Well, then, what are all these young people doing volunteering at the Washington County Historical Society? And, why are high and middle school students engaged with in-depth historical research projects?

Interns and volunteers find hidden surprises and projects

In the last two years, WCHS has had some amazing work from young people deeply interested in aspects of history. Janina Wiles came on board about two years ago to develop job skills for a career in history. Janina found her niche originally in cataloging old documents, but has gone on to assist genealogical researchers in the library and help staff and board members prepare exhibits.

Most of the other volunteers have come to work on a degree program, build a resume or complete required intern hours.

Last summer, Katie Kitner McGowan, a graduate student at Penn State University, Harrisburg, Pa., dove into our garment collection with relish, both from a student’s perspective and from a sheer appreciation of what stories one could weave about clothing worn by long-past generations. Her work throughout the season focused on the preservation of textiles and ended with a fantastic exhibit.

Miranda Downey works on her Student Service Learning hours by volunteering in many ways. A senior student at Broadfording Christian Academy, west of Hagerstown, Miranda helped prepare materials for program presentations and accompanied me while conducting tours through the Miller House.

This year Anna Cueto, who received her Bachelor of Arts in history from McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., and is about to begin her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, brought enthusiasm to a project of preparing a collection of books for sale. The books were given through an estate to help raise some funds for WCHS. She then jumped in to continue to work on the garment collection and to help prepare for a major exhibit. Anna will also visit our Sister City, Wesel, Germany, soon.
“I like to know where we have come from individually and as a people,” Anna said about her interest in history.

Mary Kavanagh, a graduate student from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., chose to work on helping us establish social media outlets that some of us old fogeys found challenging. Mary was not with us long, but she clearly was interested in our work. She is about to begin a new job with Strayer College Loudon County Campus in Ashburn, Va., as Learning Resource Center manager.

Patrick McGowan, who is working on an internship with Shippensburg University, has a specific interest in the history of the C&O Canal and as he comes on board, we look forward to getting his input to our work.

He will join, also new this summer, Katie Noll, a senior public history major at Shepherd University, who also has a computer technology background.
Katie said she chose WCHS as a place in order to share her talent.

“History explains why,” she said. “It is a never-ending story with characters who are regular people but do extraordinary things.”

There are many opportunities for exhibit planning, research, preservation, cataloging and direct connection to visitors within the work of WCHS. Each one of these young people has at some point exclaimed that they had no idea of the extent of our collection and the depth of history represented within the library and archives.

High and middle school students meet National History Day Challenge

“Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events” was the theme of National History Day this year. 

In March and early April, a number of Washington County Public School students rose to the challenge of producing a project that followed the theme from beginning to end. That included identifying the subject, researching the subject and interpreting why and how it represented a turning point in history by describing the impact.

The state competition was on April 27. National judging is slated for Sunday, June 9 through Thursday, June 13.

This annual competition is open to middle and high school students. They compete first at the school level and then go on to the county level. It is extremely important to the judging that the theme be completed to the point of summary, a real challenge to a student who is new to finding primary resources about the subject and analyzing what changed in the world as a result.

The interpretation can be an exhibit, an essay, a website, a documentary or a performance. Each entry must provide the primary and secondary sources used in an annotated bibliography and an explanation of the project in 500 words or less or in three minutes or less. Exhibits are limited to a space of 40 inches by 30 inches by 72 inches. Judging criteria include historical quality, relation to the theme with emphasis on drawing conclusions, clarity of presentation and rules of compliance.

I had planned to serve again as a judge for the exhibit portion of the competition for the high school division, but scheduling conflicts presented problems. When these problems were resolved, I found myself going to the event anyway and spending more time marveling at the increased number of submissions this year and the varied subject matter addressed.

Just within the high school exhibits, research projects artfully depicted: People: Martin Luther King, Walt Disney, Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, Wright Brothers and their flight, The Beatles, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Medical advances: chemotherapy, open heart surgery and vaccines for polio and smallpox. Inventions:  the Gutenberg press, television, transcontinental railroad. (Bell’s and the Wrights’ work could have fallen here). Historic events: Battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, Sept. 11, 2001, Gold Rush, Reign of Terror in France, Boston Tea Party, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Fall of Constantinople.  Political: 19th Amendment, Emancipation Proclamation, Title IX, the Berlin Wall, Resurgence of Conservatism, Watergate break-in on politics and another on journalism, impact of the introduction of Buddhism to China, End of Isolationism and Rise of U.S. to Global Power, and Economics: Walmart.

Three local projects went on to earn state recognition. Jade Lee from Smithsburg Middle School was awarded Excellence in Civic Action and Engagement by the Maryland Council for Social Studies. Hers was a paper written on Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring and Growth of the Environmental Movement.”

A group website design by students from Washington County Technical High School was given a special prize in Maryland history by the Maryland Historical Society. Students involved were Jasmine Flores, Ifeanyichu Idegwu, Mary McCleaf, Melissa Miller and Allison Staubs. Their subject was “Clara Barton: Crossing the Battlefield and Beyond.”

Ferkhat Shubaldze from North Hagerstown High School received a Mary Douglas Glasspool Special Award for Religious Freedom for an individual documentary on the Battle of Yarmouk and the Rise of Islam in the Middle East.

Local winners in the high school division, including the entries above, were: Historical Essays: first place, Sarah Young, Williamsport High School, “Golden Age of TV”; and Emma Gerhold, second place, Smithsburg High School, “Disney.”
Individual exhibits: first place, Brianna Adams, South Hagerstown High, “Williams Pericardium”; second place, Kirstie Coombs, North Hagerstown High School, “Vaccinating History”; third place, Whitney Jarrett, South High, “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”

 Group exhibits: first place, Sarah Carr, Ben Roberts and Adam Shuster, all of North High, “Gutenberg Printing Press”; second place, Jordan Edund and Taylor Shank, of North High, “End of Isolationism.”

Individual websites produced a tie for first between Joe Hamilton for “Homestead Act”  and Jason Hall for  “Guerrilla Warfare”; both students are from North Highl.
Group websites included a first for the state-recognized project listed above about Clara Barton, which also took Best in Show; and second went to Matt Hamilton and Cy Hudson, Williamsport High, “Tet Offensive.”

In the individual documentary category, first went to the state-recognized project on the Battle of Yarmouk. Second place was a tie between Yusf Bodirov of North High for “Fall of Constantine” and Zach Boger of Washington County Technical High School for “The Aftermath: Lee’s Retreat from Gettysburg.” Third went to Nemo Terferi of South High for “Facebook: Do We Like This?”

Group Documentary: first was awarded to Amber Larking, Rachel McCollough and Linda Strehle, all of North High, for “Valley Forge”; and second place to Connor Dagenhart, Eric Demory and Shelby Geraci, all of Boonsboro High School for “Mickey Mouse.” 

A performance award went to Trevon King, Caleb Lyle, Kayla Person and Emily Unger, all from North High, for “New World, New Diseases.” A special local history award went to Daniel Johnson and Andrew Volz, both of South High on “How Racism Has Changed.”

In addition to the state-recognized essay from Smithsburg Middle School, which also took first place in the local division competition, the second place essay was from David O’Donoghue of Northern Middle School for “Polio Vaccine.”
Middle school individual documentaries: first place, Mya Rattay of E. Russell Hicks Middle School for “Ruby Bridges” and second place, Ainsley Plumadore, also from Hicks, for “Pearl Harbor.”

Group documentaries: first place, Brandon Vittetoe and Hazel Wechsler, of Boonsboro Middle School, “Irish Potato Famine”; second place, Sean Little, Ryan Weaver and William Malcolm, all of Clear Spring Middle School, “Antietam,” which also was recognized as best local history project.

Individual exhibits: first place, Alison Lee, Northern Middle, “The Wright Brothers”; second, Emily Burzinksi, Northern Middle, “Rosie the Riveter”; and third, a tie, Abby McDougal, Smithsburg Middle, “Temple Grandin”; and Julie Hutzell, Western Heights Middle School, “Fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Group exhibits: first place, Jennifer Hernandez, Emily Gorman and Ally Spaid, Smithsburg Middle, “The Holocaust”; second place, Caitlin Lee Hendricks and Cassandra Seifert, E. Russell Hicks Middle School, “September 11”; third place, Audrey Stahl, Sophie Bowen and Heather Meyer, Northern Middle, “Kristallnacht.”
Individual websites: first place, Quinn Wandalowski, Smithsburg Middle, “The Human Genome Project,” which also took Best in Show; second place went to Talia Siedman, Smithsburg Middle, “The Holocaust: The Final Turning Point.” Group Websites: first place, Zach Shank and Seth Stuller, Smithsburg Middle, “The Lost Colony”; second, Ella Reinhard, Safiy-ya Ali, E. Russell Hicks, “Harvard, First College of the Colonies.”
Joseph Crocetta and Phoenix Do, from E. Russell Hicks, were given a first place in group performance for “The Transformative Impact of Computers.”

The topics and interest level of these “not old fogeys” defies most assumptions about the importance and depth of what is history and the Washington County Historical Society applauds.  Next year, when the students tackle “Rights and Responsibilities” we’ll try to do more than just observe.

Linda Irvin-Craig is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. For more information, call 301-797-8782 or go to

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