Maryland History Day: Contest and the Context
When the judges evaluate your project, 60% of your score is Historical Quality, and within that, how well you place your topic in historical contest is an important element. For the historian, context refers to a particular time and place in which an event occurs. An event never occurs in a vacuum, but is influenced by other factors of culture, society, and history. Also, things may change after, or flow out of an event. To contextualize means to explain the factors that lead to and flow out of an event.
As an example, consider Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. To discuss this subject without addressing issues of “taxation without representation” and concepts of redress found in English Common Law that preceded the event would be missing important historical context. Also, it would be missing important historical context to fail to discuss that the Declaration of Independence didn’t offer a practical system of government, which necessarily leads to Articles of Confederation and then our current constitution.
To get at historical context it is critically important to grapple with some of these questions:
What factors caused this event to happen when it happened and how it happened?
- Why didn’t this happen sooner or later in history?
- What critical element, if removed would have made this event impossible?
- How did this event impact the world with a year of it happening?
- What are some of the positive effects of this event?
- What are some of the negative effects of this event?
- What was forever changed by this event?
- What significant events could not have happened without this event having occurred?
- How is the world different now because of this event?
- Why is this important to us today?
John Willard is MHC’s History Day Outreach Coordinator.
Tags: Maryland History Day