MHC’s Maryland History Day program challenges middle and high school students to explore a topic that intereststhem by conducting in-depth research and creating projects that are evaluated by judges at the local, state, and national levels. Many students who compete in Maryland History Day attribute the skills they learned through History Day to success later in life. History Day students not only dig deep into primary and secondary sources at libraries and archives, they also gain experience visiting historic sites and conducting first-person interviews to support their research. Catherine’s story is an excellent example of how conducting interviews to facilitate historical inquiry can help students develop and practice important research and literacy skills.
When Catherine Scott began to think about her History Fair topic and category last fall, her teacher suggested that she let her desire to become an attorney guide her decision. “Catherine, like her brother Michael, wants to follow the footsteps of both her mother and grandfather and continue a family legacy of practicing law as successful and well-respected members of the Bar,” said Margaret Land, Catherine’s eighth grade Calvert County social studies teacher. “I knew the History Day process would provide an excellent opportunity for her to build upon the strong analytical, research, and writing skills needed to succeed in the legal profession.”
“I have always been interested in law and the history of segregation in our country,” said Catherine. “After reading a few articles on Thurgood Marshall and the legal path he took to fight for desegregation, I thought it would be an interesting and cool topic to explore.” Catherine’s strong abilities to write well and to gather evidence reflecting different perspectives led her to select the Historical Paper category to convey her learning. After formulating a working thesis, Catherine focused her research on how Marshall utilized the Maryland judiciary early in his legal career to methodically dismantle the “Separate but Equal” doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson. Thanks to his efforts, the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision abolished segregation in public education throughout the United States.
Inspired by Marshall’s strong belief that ending racial desegregation in education would ultimately lead to social, political, and economic equality for African Americans, Catherine sought to learn more about how his values were shaped by his middle class upbringing in Baltimore, Maryland. And who better to share a personal perspective than Marshall’s son and namesake, Thurgood Marshall, Jr. After carefully crafting a series of questions, Catherine met last December with Mr. Marshall, an attorney and lobbyist in Washington, DC. “At first, I thought I knew everything about my topic, but during my interview I realized that there was a lot more insight and good information that was not published that perhaps only his son knew,” Catherine stated. The details she gathered helped her understand the continuity and change in racial segregation during Marshall’s lifetime and strengthened her historical argument that Marshall’s own experience and convictions helped fuel his persistence.
- Find out how you can become a History Day Judge at our State Contest in April 2014
Although Catherine’s research paper was selected to advance from the county to the state contest, she learned that History Day is much more than a competition. The process required her to locate, analyze, synthesize, and communicate information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, similar to the skill set she will need as an attorney. Catherine strongly recommends that other students working on History Day projects, regardless of category, “find someone involved with your topic so you can gain background that you can get only through an interview.”
“Catherine’s desire to historically investigate the work of arguably the most influential attorney in the 20st century, all while honing the skills she needs to one day become a successful lawyer in her own right, seemed like the perfect combination to provide a student with motivation and authentic learning,” concluded her teacher. “I am very proud of Catherine and I am a firm believer that participating in History Day can help students develop their talents and acquire the essential skills and contextual knowledge needed to be ready for career, college, and civic life.”