This Year’s Theme: Taking a Stand in History
(Adapted with permission from National History Day)
Each year, National Capital History Day chooses a new theme for all projects. This keeps the contest new each year, and allows students to focus their work, too. For 2016-2017, the theme will be Taking a Stand in History, allowing students to explore those individuals and groups who have taken risks and taken a stand in political, social, religious, military, economic, intellectual, or artistic spheres.
When you take a stand, you have to take a strong position on a particular issue. Sometimes people take a stand in supporting an issue (suffragists like Nellie McClung and Emmeline Pankhurst fought for women’s rights) and sometimes they take a stand by opposing something (Métis leader Louis Riel fought against the Canadian government to maintain Métis lands). Sometimes a person has to fight the status quo or a powerful movement or even a government.
When you’re thinking about individuals or groups who have taken a stand, think about how they used force, words, or economic or political power to assert their position. And remember that just because someone opposes something, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are taking a stand — you should also consider what it takes to move from general opposition to taking a stand. (For example, many people were opposed to racism in the 1940s, but Viola Desmond took a stand when was denied a seat in a “whites-only” section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre — prompting her arrest.)
Groups can take a stand, too (consider, for example, how the Indian National Congress protested to end British control of India or how a group of rebellious English barons stood up to King John in 1215, resulting in the Magna Carta).
Think about grassroots movements and small groups that had a big effect. Why were they successful? It’s important to look at the legacy of the actions of the group or the individual — what happened because of their stand? What changes occurred in the short term? Long term? Did they leave the world, their country, or their town better or worse?
Often people who take a stand become great historical leaders, and often they must overcome opposition. Many times, taking a stand is related to military action. Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Joan of Arc and Napoleon I all led armies to take a stand. But sometimes it’s important to consider why an individual might take a stand against military action and the consequences they faced for doing so.
But taking a stand doesn’t necessarily need to involve military force or a political enemy. In fact, sometimes taking a stand means walking away (such as the case of Soviet defectors — musicians, dancers, athletes etc. How did their stand influence politics and artistic expression or sports? How were they affected as individuals?).
And don’t forget that movements for social and political change rarely happen overnight — sometimes it can take years. Consider the role of media (and social media!) and how initial failure of a movement can later become a success.
As you consider your topic for this year’s contest, think big — an event or time period that really interests you — and then scale own and dig deeper into the individuals and groups that made an impact. And don’t forget to consider people from your own town or city — sometimes the most powerful examples of taking a stand can be found in your own backyard.
You can see sample topics using this theme here.
You can also watch a video about this year’s theme, courtesy of our friends at National History Day Minnesota.