(This column was originally published in The Jackson Sun Feb. 21, 2010.)
Those of us who have lived in Tennessee for a long time may think we know our state pretty well. Even so, there are a few facts about our state’s past that might escape the attention of all but the most avid history buffs.
For example, did you know that civil rights activists Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks both attended the Highlander Folk School near Monteagle?
Or that three other cities other than Nashville have served as the state capital, including Kingston, which held that distinction for a single day?
Or that the country’s worst inland marine disaster occurred just north of Memphis on the Mississippi River, when in 1865 an explosion caused the steamboat Sultana to sink, claiming the lives of approximately 1,700 people? It was a greater loss of life than when Titanic sank in 1912.
Tennessee truly has a rich history. It is important for Tennesseans to develop an understanding and appreciation of that history at a young age to nurture a lifetime interest. I believe those who do so are more likely to become well-informed and engaged citizens when they reach adulthood.
That is why I am very proud that the Tennessee Department of State has become a title sponsor of Tennessee History Day, an event that will be celebrated at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville on April 17.
First, a bit of history about History Day: National History Day was established in 1974 by a college professor in Ohio who wanted to provide opportunities for students to learn more about history and develop research, thinking and communications skills needed to share what they were learning.
The concept quickly spread – and today schools in almost every state and several U.S. territories participate. Thousands of students in grades six through 12 have taken part in Tennessee History Day since it began in the 1980s. This is the second year that the Tennessee Historical Society has organized and promoted the event.
Participants in History Day prepare projects, based on their research into local, state, federal or international historical topics of their choosing, then enter those projects in local competitions across the state.
These projects can take many forms – from museum-style exhibits to web sites to documentaries to live performances. Many of them are extremely interesting, well-researched and attractively presented. The theme for this year’s competition is “Innovation in History.” Sample projects from past years can be viewed online at http://www.tennesseehistory.org/SampleHistoryDayProjects.htm
Students who present the best projects in the local competitions advance to one of the four district competitions, which will be held in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Murfreesboro and Memphis over the next few days. More information is available at www.tennesseehistory.org or by calling (615) 741-8934.
The winners at the district level will advance to the statewide Tennessee History Day competition in Nashville. The statewide winners will then have a chance to compete in the National History Day finals, which will be held in College Park, Maryland June 13-17.
I encourage Tennesseans to attend the district competitions and the statewide competition, where these outstanding projects will be on display.
I would like to offer my thanks the East Tennessee Historical Society, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, the Chattanooga History Center, Middle Tennessee State University, the University of Memphis and the Memphis Redbirds for sponsoring and hosting the district competitions this year.
One great aspect of History Day is that it is open to students all across the educational spectrum, whether they attend public schools, private schools or are home-schooled. Last year, more than 6,000 students participated in local History Day competitions across our state.
Many schools promote History Day and encourage their students to get involved. There’s a widespread recognition among teachers that History Day represents an opportunity to help students broaden their educational experiences outside the classroom setting.
Preparing projects for History Day also helps prepare students for the work they will be expected to do in college and their professional lives. National History Day’s motto is: “It’s not just a day…it’s an experience.” And I believe those who participate will find this to be true.
Students who know about our past represent the best hope for our future.
Tre Hargett is Tennessee’s Secretary of State.