DMS students journey through time for the National History Day

Middle schoolers compete by showcasing critical thinking and research skills with exhibits and presentations on topics related to frontiers in history.

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A group of Dickinson Middle School students showcase their National History Day exhibit on the history of the Paralympics at the Theodore Roosevelt Center on April 12.
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON — Twenty Dickinson Middle School students recently took a journey through time as they competed in the National History Day regional competition at Dickinson State University on Wednesday, April 12, impressing judges and experts with their exhibits and presentations on various topics related to frontiers in history.

With trifold poster boards and glue for last minute fixes in hand, students from Geography teacher Alyssa Wagner’s class presented their exhibits and research papers in a layout similar to a science fair, but history focused.

National History Day is a nationwide competition that works to emphasize critical reading and thinking skills, research, analysis and the drawing of meaningful conclusions as students complete group or individual projects in the form either exhibits, documentaries, performances, websites, or paper presentations. Students spent months researching their topics centered on the theme of frontiers in history, which included the history of things like the Titanic, Ancient Greece, and even the Paralympics all the while proving not only their knowledge of the topic but how each topic changed the course of history.

DSU professor of History Jeff Wells helped organize the event and was excited for DSU to host the event for the first time.

“It’s small this year but we’re looking to getting rebuilt after the pandemic and getting bigger,” Wells said.


Hosted at the Teddy Roosevelt Center, students were able to rotate between presenting and taking a tour of the rich photographs and artifacts in the center alongside William Hansard the digital collections specialist at the center.

As a testament to the hard work of the students, Hansard noted that each time he is a part of National History Day he learns as much history from the students as they learn from him.

“I have never judged or been a part of a National History Day contest where I did not learn something new,” Hansard said.

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William Hansard the digital collections specialist at the Theodore Roosevelt Center presents facts on the former president in a scale model replica of his library on April 12.
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

Students confidently showcased their hard work to judges including Bob Fuhrman and Jessica Stratton from the Dickinson Museum Center as well as current history education students at DSU.

“They've worked really hard and so I'm excited for them to showcase their stuff,” Wagner said.

One group which did an exhibit on the Paralympics was even able to contact and interview Mollie Jepson a Canadian alpine skier who competed in the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Winter Games.

The group felt their biggest challenge was the actual construction of their exhibit. It took more than one trip to the store for poster board before perfecting their final project the trio said.

“I think the biggest thing I learned is that the Paralympics opened up a gateway for other teams,” another group member said.


The judges took turns at each exhibit, asking challenging questions and marking their rubrics before giving students valuable feedback on their projects.

A tape measure is brought out by John Wells a DSU history professor to determine whether the exhibit exceeds the height requirements for the National History Day competition.
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

Meanwhile, upstairs, Hansard shared his extensive knowledge of Teddy Roosevelt sharing facts like the unusual pets the president had including sugar gliders and even a badger, or the daily pot of coffee he consumed, a habit that originally began as a treatment for his asthma.

“One of his children said his coffee cup was more like a bathtub because he drank so much,” Hansard said.

Hansard said that being a part of events like National History Day is truly what he lives for.

“All the things that historians do, don't matter if we don't get it out to the public. We can write as many niche books and put together exhibits and do all these things, but if we don't make sure people know about it, then it all goes to waste,” Hansard said.

DSU professor of education Sarah Crossingham enjoyed not only seeing the middle school students compete but also watching her own education students judge and experience what will likely happen in their own classrooms in the future.

“It's such a good organization for students to be a part of, for educators to be a part of, and also to it's a way to bring the community in as well,” Crossingham said.

Students will use the feedback from judges to improve their projects as the group of twenty advances to the state competition held at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck on April 28th.


First and second-place winners at the state level are then eligible to compete in the national contest at the University of Maryland in June.

Allison is a news reporter from Phoenix, Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. After college, she worked as a middle school writing teacher in the valley. She has made her way around the U.S. driving from Arizona to Minnesota and eventually finding herself here in Dickinson. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys covering community news.
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