Redefining History

Redefining History

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When I first saw the banner at Boone announcing the school’s participation in the annual Chicago History Fair, I totally admit that I went into giddy mode.

I had heard of the fair last year after it was over and felt immediate disappointment that I had missed it. What kind of exhibits would be in a middle school fair about Chicago’s history? What did they find fascinating about this city’s past? Would it be expected history or would it be uncovered and unexpected surprises? How would they connect it to today?

Clearly, I am a giant nerd, so it goes without saying that I immediately got myself on the judges list for Boone’s fair.

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The Chicago History Fair calls for middle and high school students to interpret history through their booths. They need to find an event and demonstrate—through a presentation, a paper, and imagery—how this moment was a turning point for our city.

This task is easier said than done. Each exhibit must include 15 sources (first and secondary sources) along with an annotated bibliography. I have no recollection of even knowing what a bibliography WAS in middle school, let alone an annotated one!

I received the rubric a couple days before the event and was surprised to see how in-depth the judging scale would be. Students need to present historical accuracy, thorough and unbiased analysis, a synthesized thesis, and do so in a professional manner. When asked how many booths I wanted to judge, I very (unwisely) announced, “All of them.”

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There were many stand out booths on issues including child labor, tuberculosis, the influenza, the Jane Addams Hull House, the 1968 Democratic Convention, and a myriad of other topics. One moment in history I had never heard of was “The Radium Girls,” who were among the first women to sue a corporation that was creating a toxic product. The students at each booth were able to present the social, economic, or technological impact of so many moments in history that it made my head spin.

It occurred to me in the moment that this is exactly how all history should be taught—as moments in time that have an impact that can be traced to today. That was my big takeaway from the event.

I want to offer congratulations to all of the students at Boone for their hard work and wish much luck to the students who will move on to the city competition!

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