Opinions: Reflecting on the National History Day Project

How appealing does it sound to write a 2500 word research paper, or direct a 10-minute in-depth documentary across a three month span on one historical event? Stressful? Maybe. Time-consuming? Absolutely. An opportunity to learn about something interesting? Yes! The National History Day Competition is a research-dense opportunity to learn about an historical event that interests you and relates to the annual NHD theme. Massachusetts NHD state affiliates, Elyssa Tardif and Kate Melchoir, say that NHD is “an inter-disciplinary research project for students …  that encourages exploration of local, state, national, and world history.” There is a collective premonition among the freshmen and sophomores at Montrose that the mounting tensions of NHD are stressful and get in the way of learning, but if viewed in the right light, NHD can be an opportunity to refine your research process, and dive deep into a fascinating historical event of your choice. 

We (Catherine Olohan ‘22 and Grace Marino ‘22) wrote individual research papers both freshman and sophomore year, and our younger sisters, Helen Olohan ‘24 and Anya Marino ‘24, just wrapped up the NHD process this year! Insights gleaned from us as former NHD-ers, say that the worst thing you can do to yourself is to get stressed. When thinking about all the steps required to finish a project – a thesis, topic sentences, evidence, primary sources, annotated bibliography, process paper, more primary sources – it can be overwhelming. The most important part in approaching this rigorous process is taking it one step at a time. Grace recommended to her sister Anya to “get help whenever you need it. That’s what your teachers are for, and what they want to do.” 

From Catherine’s perspective, January of her freshman year completely blindsided her. NHD 2019 was her first major research project, and there were times when she felt that she was drowning in sources, tripping over deadlines and sinking in stress. Needless to say, when January of her sophomore year rolled around, she was filled with dread. But, learning from the year before, she took a step back and approached the demanding project piece by piece, rather than running into it without a plan. NHD 2020 was much smoother sailing than NHD 2019 because of the learning experiences that late nights of editing and writing and completely re-writing offered. Of course, in the moment, when you have a major deadline coming up, nobody takes a minute to stop and think, “Wow! I’m learning so much from this right now! This stress will all be worth it someday, so I’m going to keep pushing.” All of our insights were gained in retrospect; and, when Helen and Anya were starting the process, these were the reflections that they wanted to pass onto their sisters. 

With a 2020 theme of Communication: The Key to Understanding, Anya wrote a research paper about the Cherokee syllabary while Helen partnered with Cecelia Ashenuga ‘24 to piece together and narrate a documentary about the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. Following the submission of their projects, Anya and Helen felt like a giant weight had been lifted from their shoulders; Grace and Catherine remembered the feeling too. However, Helen and Anya had the opportunity to see how much they have learned about an interesting topic and the research synthesizing experience, as well as the extensive formatting protocols. When Catherine asked Helen what her biggest takeaway from the project was, she responded: “My project was really difficult to complete; but, whenever I complained, Catherine emphasized that I just needed to buckle down and do the work because finishing would be so gratifying if I knew I had given it my all. And my takeaways weren’t only on the process either. I learned a lot about the theme, ‘communications’ through my research and how it can be used in both positive and negative ways.” Similarly, Anya answered: “definitely the researching aspect — I loved learning about what was important to different cultures. I had watched Grace do NHD the past two years and was worried it would be super hard. But, even though there were times when it was hard, I realized how important it is to keep pushing through and get help when I needed it, from my teachers, friends and family.”

Catherine Olohan ‘22, Copy Editor & Grace Marino ‘22, Staff Writer