Every year, we eagerly look forward to National History Day, the nation-wide history contest for middle and high school students. We get particularly excited about the announcement for the winner’s of NBLA’s sponsored prize: the History of the Physical Sciences & Technology Prize. With this year’s theme of “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding,” and our dependence on computers in the last pandemic year, it is unsurprising that both winners chose topics related to the history of computer communications. We interviewed the 2021 winners of the prize and asked them about their experience with NHD.
Senior Division winner Tyler Kaus of Chadron Senior High School in Nebraska made a video about computer language developer Grace Hopper. You can view the video here.
“I was introduced to National History Day in 6th grade. It was an opportunity for me to participate in an extracurricular activity that was not athletic based. When I learned that I could use my computer skills it seemed like the perfect activity. In addition, I really enjoy history.
I decided to research Grace Hopper because I am interested in computer technology and programming. I chose a documentary because I felt there would be enough visuals to make the topic engaging. I feel it is important to study Grace Hopper. She made many contributions to Naval and women’s history. She also demonstrated the capabilities of women in a field that was primarily dominated by men. It was her contributions in the area of communications that created a legacy that shaped computer software development and will continue to make an impact on future computer technologies.
One of the things that surprised me [while researching Grace Hopper] was her sense of humor. After watching interviews and recorded lectures, her personality really came through. She was a very witty, no nonsense lady. I would have loved to meet her or listen to her in person.
This National History Day project has been a valuable experience. I enjoyed the online archives and learning the research process. I also spent many hours developing my documentary to demonstrate her work and how it affects us today. I needed patience in order to create pieces, and line up my words, pictures, and effects. All of these skills will help me in the future.”
A little more about Tyler:
“I enjoy NHD as well as participating in the school’s content creation team. My favorite school subjects are computer science courses.
I would recommend the computer history museum online. The site is interactive and covers many topics in computer science.”
Junior Division winner Advith Natarajan hails from Susan B. Anthony Middle School in Kansas. Nataragan’s project is a paper on the “father of information theory” Claude Shannon.
“I first learned about NHD when I was a 6th grader at Marlatt Elementary School. As a person who loved history (and writing), I jumped in! For my first History Day project I wrote a paper on Nikola Tesla. I really enjoyed writing that year so I decided to participate in History Day throughout Middle School.
When I came across the theme for this year's contest, I thought about the current situation we were in. With a once in a century pandemic spreading like wildfire, we were relying on communication technologies in ways we never had before. From video conferencing with friends and family, to using online platforms for schoolwork, a virtual lifestyle was and still is in high gear. That led me to think about just how this type of communication came into existence. This question, along with the urge to understand the history of modern communication, brought me to Claude Shannon.
It was surprising to learn that Claude Shannon created Information Theory by himself. You rarely see a paper today that isn’t edited or looked at by other professionals before publication. Shannon just dropped this miraculous discovery upon us.
[During my NHD experience,] I learned a lot about historical analysis/historical writing. Learning how to interpret events and turn that into something that supports your thesis was a big thing I learned. I also learned how to use a text editing software called Latex to write my paper. The software really helped me organize my paper in an appealing manner.”
A little more about Advith:
“My favorite school subject is math or science (I can’t decide) and my favorite extracurricular activities are playing sports (basketball, soccer, baseball, and tennis) and music (guitar, piano, veena, and tabla).
I would recommend reading A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I also enjoy dystopian novels. My favorite YouTube channel is Mr. Beast.”
Congratulations to all of the students and teachers who participated in the 2021 National History Day contest. Countless hours of research and hard work go into making these projects great. We’re already counting down the days to next summer’s National History Day in 2022, where the theme will be: “Debate & Diplomacy in History: Successes, failures, consequences.”