The University of Southern Mississippi Department of History recently hosted the National History Day in Mississippi competition. Approximately 180 junior high and high school students competed in this “history fair” styled event Feb. 23, with 60 Southern Miss faculty and students serving as judges. Following the competition, an awards ceremony was held in Joseph Green Hall on the Hattiesburg campus.
Dr. Phyllis Jestice, professor and chair of the Southern Miss Department of History, coordinated the event. According to Jestice, National History Day is a full-scale U.S. program at which junior high and high school students from sixth through 12th grade enter into a number of categories. The students conduct original research on the theme of the year, with this year’s being “Turning Points in History.”
Southern Miss history faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students judged the National History Day in Mississippi competition. Groups of three judges were assigned to each category in order to provide a variety of perspectives.
“Most of the graduate and undergraduate students were either in the history social studies licensure program or members of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society,” said Jestice. “Involving these Southern Miss students encourages them to participate in National History Day when they have classrooms of their own.”
Competitive categories include the following: research paper, individual website, group website, individual performance, group performance, individual documentary, group documentary, individual exhibit, and group exhibit.
First and second place winners from both the junior- and senior-levels of these categories are eligible to compete at the national competition at the University of Maryland. Third place winners serve as alternates in the event that a first- or second-place group or individual cannot attend nationals.
The competition occurs in nearly every U.S. state and a number of U.S. territories, as well. Student competitors from Mississippi have been placing higher at the national competition in recent years since Southern Miss has begun providing advancing students with a mentor who help improve projects going to nationals. At nationals, students are sectioned off into 15 groups or individuals per room. Mississippi students were averaging at about 13th place in the past, but more recently, they have been averaging at 5th place in the room. Many Mississippi competitors move on to the finals.
The Mississippi program is small compared to others, but the program has experienced a growth phase and Jestice expects National History Day in Mississippi to continue growing.
“The quality of the program is growing by leaps and bounds, thanks to Renee McClendon, a community member who goes to schools teaching students how to compete,” said Jestice. “Renee is a wonderfully public-spirited person who is doing a lot of good.”
Students will travel to compete at the 2013 Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest June 9–13 at the University of Maryland. For more information about National History Day or the Southern Miss Department of History, call 601.266.4333 or visit www.usm.edu/history.