LAHS students represent LA in national competition

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By Kirsten Laskey

History does not remain in the past, stuck on some dusty, ignored library shelf. Recently, students all over the country proved just how important and relevant the subject is during the National History Day competition held June 13-18 at the University of Maryland.

Several Los Alamos students participated in the competition. Hannah Denever and Ellen Rabin competed in the senior group exhibit category and Lizzie Wasileska and Shannon Burns each entered in the senior individual documentary category.

In the competition, Burns reached the finals where she placed 11th with her project, “All That Devils Could Ask For: The Actions and Legacy of Sherman in the Civil War.”

Additionally, she won an award, “Best Project on the Civil War Scene,” from the Civil War Preservation Organization.

Denever and Rabin finished sixth in the first round while Wasileska finished ninth in the first round.

Burns said just the chance to compete in the national competition was enough for her.

“Every year just making nationals is enough ... To be able to place 11th in the national competition is unbelievable … it was really, really exciting to learn I had made it that far.”

Her project, Burns said, dealt with Gen. Sherman who took his Union troops through Confederate territory, burning and pillaging along the way.

Her project objectively looked at the pros and cons of the situation. The plus, she said, was that Sherman’s actions helped end the war but the con was he reaped a lot of devastation.

“I chose this topic because my family and I are a bunch of Civil War buffs,” Burns said.

She added she really liked the complexity of the issue and how Sherman justified his actions.

To prepare for her documentary, Burns said she read a lot of books about Sherman and took a research trip to Georgia and Pennsylvania. She looked at primary sources including soldier’s written accountants of what had happened, property owner’s papers and Sherman’s own writings.

Her goal, Burns said, was to take all the primary research and create a project and draw a conclusion that was strictly her own.

Plus, she was also striving to make it to nationals.

To get to nationals, Burns and her fellow competitors had to place either first or second in the state competition, which was held April 24 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

New Mexico Humanities Council and the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs sponsored the state competition.

Burns placed second in her division. Walsileska’s project, “Lewis Hine: Focusing the American Conscience,” earned first place in senior individual documentary; Denever and Rabin’s “Dragon Lady: The Life and Legacies of Madame Mao,” received second place in senior group exhibit; and Caley Denevers’ “Clara Barton – Her Teaching Career” was awarded first place in senior individual performance.

The theme for this year’s competition was “The Individual in History – Actions and Legacies.”

Trevor Carter of the Humanities Council, said she was impressed with the quality of work that appeared at the state level.

“Actually, I thought this year we had the best entries we ever had,” she said.

In total, 60 students from New Mexico went on to nationals.

This is Burns’ fourth time participating in state history day competition and her third time making it to the national level. She said it was great to share the experience of participating in these competitions with her peers.

“We all made it this far again,” Burns said. “(It was a) chance to bond and get to know each other.”

She added she hopes to compete again.

Burns said she discovered the history day competitions in seventh-grade. Her teacher required her class to participate.

Since then, she has been hooked.

“I wanted to do it again the next year because it was just fun,” Burns said.

She encourages others to give the competitions a try.

It provides the same benefits to history buffs as science fairs offers up-and-coming young scientists. She said, “It gives them a chance to be recognized, too.”

Carter added, “I think it’s just a great educational curriculum.”

Many students who start the competition lukewarm about history end up loving the subject, she said.  

Students can go to nhd.org to learn how to get started.

“Just pick a topic and go for it,” Burns said.