Library Development

History Day Projects Going Digital

In 1981 Pierre hosted the first South Dakota State History Day competition. Twenty-nine years later, and the event is still being held. This year, the South Dakota State Library has decided to recognize placing entries by making them available on the library's web site. Watch for upcoming details on this digital project.

Just what is History Day all about? Here is some background information and ways that librarians and libraries of all types can become involved. South Dakota History Day has had a lot of homes, first the Capitol Building in Pierre, then the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. April 18 marked the first year that the competition was held at South Dakota State University, Brookings. This year, over 250 students, grades 6-12, came to compete at the state level. Each one hoping to win one of South Dakota’s slots for the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland, College Park. Only the first and second place projects in each category are eligible to move on to the national competition, so the stakes are high. The South Dakota History Day competition is sponsored by the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum and the South Dakota Humanities Council.

A competitive History Day project is not created in one weekend. First the student needs to select a topic. This year’s theme was “The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies." The theme is intentionally broad and complex. Students are expected “to capture that specific moment in time in which change occurred and the role played by the individual.” Requiring more than rote memorization of names and dates, students are expected to move beyond descriptions and discover the true impact that an individual’s actions had on history. While both the National and State History Day web sites offer suggestions, students can choose whatever topic interests them. This year’s competition saw a diverse group of subjects, from Wild Bill Hickok to Aung San Suu Kui. The important thing is that each project fit the theme.

The medium that the student chooses is as important as the content of the project. Students are encouraged to pick the category that will best enable them to tell their story, and that speaks to their interests. Categories include:

  1. Web Site (Individual and Group)
  2. Group Exhibit
  3. Individual Exhibit
  4. Group Performance
  5. Individual Performance
  6. Group Documentary
  7. Individual Documentary
  8. Research Paper (Individual Only)

The students are broken up into junior (grades 6-8) and senior (grades 9-12) divisions. While the rules for each category do not change between divisions, it does level the playing field for the younger students.

Each category has its own rules and regulations, but there are some common elements to each project. Each student is required to turn in a process paper of no more than 500 words. The process paper details why the student chose this particular project, how it fits into the theme, and why they chose to compete in their particular category. Students are also expected to turn in an annotated bibliography, separating their primary and secondary sources. In addition, each student presents their project to the judge and participates in a personal interview. Entries are judged on historic quality (60%), clarity of presentation (20%), and attendance to the theme (20%).

Research is the backbone of any History Day project. Students are expected to demonstrate wide and balanced research, using a variety of sources. School and public libraries are great starting points for this type of research, but often students need access to specialized material or historic material, especially as the History Day rules require the use of primary source documents. Students often use several of the following resources:

  1. The South Dakota State Library is the resource for school and public libraries in South Dakota. They provide access to electronic databases, answer reference questions, and send out the various print resources needed for in-depth research. As this is a state library, there are many primary source materials housed here, including government and historic documents.
  2. The South Dakota State Archives is a rich resource for primary source materials dealing with South Dakota culture and history. Resources include photographs, maps, personal papers, family histories, audio tapes, video, and more.
  3. College and university libraries often house memorabilia donated by prominent alumni. South Dakota State University was fortunate enough to receive former Senator Tom Daschle’s personal papers. Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell has an archive dedicated to George McGovern. Librarians affiliated with institutions of higher learning are usually very happy to assist researchers in using their collections.
  4. Local museums and historical societies often have very unique collections, especially when dealing with local history. Most contain physical artifacts as well as print resources.
  5. Personal interviews are a great way of connecting larger world events to the local community. Students often take the time to seek out those that were present during times of change.

Once the student has thoroughly researched their topic and created their presentation. It is time for the regional competitions. While participating in the regional competition is not required to present at state, the judges in regional competitions often give feedback as to the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation. Students are free to make improvements before presenting at the state competition. South Dakota has six regions, each with their own district coordinator. Regional competitions generally take place in March, with the state competition in April.

Planning is already underway for next year’s competition and outreach. The theme will be “Innovation in History: Impact and Change.” If you would like more information about the History Day program, would like to volunteer your time, or would like to promote History Day in your school or library, contact the state and regional coordinators at:

  • South Dakota State Coordinator
    Kathie Tuntland

  • District 1 Coordinator:
    Clayton Lehman- University of South Dakota
    District 1 is comprised of Union, Clay, Yankton, Lincoln, Turner, Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Douglas, Hutchinson, Gregory, Tripp, Mellette, and Todd Counties

  • District 2 Coordinator:
    Kevin Gansz- Siouxland Heritage Museum
    District 2 is comprised of Minnehaha, Moody, Brookings, Lake, Kingsbury, Miner, Jerauld, Sanborn, McCook, Hanson, Aurora, and Davison Counties.

  • District 3 Coordinator:
    Keith Scott- Gettysburg High School
    District 3 includes Campbell, Walworth, Faulk, Edmunds, McPherson, Hand, Potter, Hyde, Sully, Jones, Lyman, Buffalo, Stanley, Hughes, and Brule Counties.

  • District 4 Coordinator:
    Loren Lutz- Waubay School
    District 4 includes Hamlin, Deuel, Clark, Codington, Grant, Beadle, Brown, Spink, Day, Marshall, and Roberts Counties.

  • District 5 Coordinator:
    Jae White- Timber Lake School
    District 5 includes Harding, Perkins, Dewey, Corson, and Ziebach counties.

  • District 6 Coordinator:
    Gene Von Bickerdyke- Harding County
    District 6 is comprised of Bennett, Haakon, Shannon, Fall River, Custer, Pennington, Lawrence, Meade, Butte and Jackson Counties.



digitial intiatives, history, research

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