April 6, 2014

Massachusetts History Day 2014 Finals

The finals of the 2014 Massachusetts History Day were held today at Stoneham High School in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  

Massachusetts History Day: t-shirt sold to raise funds for program

This year's theme was "Rights and Responsibilities in History." Junior high and high school students competed individually and in teams in these categories: Exhibit, papers, performance, documentary, and website.  (Examples of national winners in prior years in each of these categories are listed on the National History Day site.)

Roughly 350 students from 50 schools were competing, supported by more than 80 teachers.  Pictures from several of the exhibits and the first several awards at the ceremony are below.

Thanks to Kerin Shea, Northeast District Coordinator for Massachusetts History Day and the person responsible for the Massachusetts History Day social media outreach on Twitter, for the invitation.  Kerin and all the rest of the people who put on Massachusetts History Day are volunteers.  (In some states, History Day is handled by one or more paid staff.)

The exhibits

The exhibits were the only category of the finals I saw.  They were well done, with considerable time and effort put into researching the topic and creating the exhibit.  

A few observations: 

  • There were two on Miranda, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and women's rights.
  • Only one focused on Boston (urban renewal and the West End).
  • A few focused on international topics, including education for women, with a focus on Malala Yousafzai, the rights of Armenians, and the famine in Ireland.
  • No on chose the Revolutionary period or the formation of our country.  One chose the medieval period in Europe and roughly the same time period in Japan.
  • A few dealt with the civil rights struggle.
  • A few were surprising given this year's theme.  These included animal testing, Muhammad Ali, in vitro fertilization, and pirate radio.
  • One presented a historic incident that I'd never heard of: Prigg v. Pennsylvania.

Note that the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and many other topics were covered in entries in other categories.

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Mass History Day State Contest Program 2014


Local efforts to engage high school students

The local historical society on whose board I serve has struggled to engage high schools students despite overhauling our annual scholarship.  We raised the award to $1,000, changed the initial requirement from a finished project to submitting a proposal, and broadened the implementation to include various web and social media tools.  (The 2014 scholarship is described in detail here.)  I don't know whether or not students  in our local high school are encouraged to participate in the state-level National History Day contest, but judging from the exhibits I saw and the auditorium full of students and parents, it's clear that some schools across the state are using History Day to great effect.

Other national programs 

National History Day is one of three national programs encouraging high school students interested in history.

  • National Histor — ClubFrom starting with one chapter just over ten years ago, the NHC has grown to involve 17,000 students in chapters in 44 states.  As described on the organization's site, "The NHC inspires students and teachers to start History Club chapters at high schools, middle schools, and within other student and community programs.  Members of local History Club chapters participate in local and national programs, and create their own projects and activities.  The NHC also provides chapters with resources and services that will help them increase the activity and impact of their history club."
  • National History Bee, the US History Bee, and the National History Bowl —  Started within the last few years, these competitions for individuals ("Bee") and teams ("Bowl"), take place around the country and culminate with a national competition in the spring.

If there are other national programs aimed at fostering interest in history among junior high and high school students, please let us know.

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January 29, 2014

John Bell on the upcoming History Camp, March 8 in Cambridge

Updated: March 9, 2014: John wrote a short post about yesterday's History Camp, where he was a speaker and a panelist.  

Updated: April 2, 2014: A video of one of John's talks at History Camp, "The Boston Bankruptcy That Led to the American Revolution," is now online.

John Bell, of Boston 1775 fame, was one of the inspirations for History Camp, which takes place on March 8 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

John is a well known scholar and writer.  In addition to being the author of the Boston 1775 blog and an in-depth (669-page) historic resource study of the Longfellow House-George Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site for the National Park Service, John is a contributor to the highly-regarded Revolutionary War-era site All Things Liberty, the Journal of the American Revolution, as well as other books, and is a frequent presenter, panelist, and interviewer (shown here in December with author Nathaniel Philbrick discussing Philbrick's new book, Bunker Hill).

Author John Bell with author Nathaniel Philbrick at the Cambridge Forum discussing "Bunker Hill"

As John mentioned in his blog post published Saturday and reproduced below, I raised the idea for History Camp on our walk to the subway following a rousingl "RevWar Schmoozer," an informal gathering of RevWar history buffs over beer at an establishment near Faneuil Hall organized by Todd Andrlik, founder and editor of All Things Liberty and other publications (including this one and this one), John was interested in learning more, so I sent him links to information about the unconference format.  

Authors Sam Forman and Liz Covart were interested in participating, and local entrepreneurs Laura Wallendal and Adam Hasler said they were interested in helping organize it.  Adriene Katz of the Shelburne Museum, Colleen Janz of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, were very encouraging.  (As I recall, Colleen's reaction went something like this when I approached her at the NEMA conference in Newport: "John Bell's going to be there?!  If he's going to be there, I'm going!")  

John, Sam, Liz, and Colleen are all going to present; Laura, Adam, and Adriene may; but Todd, who lives near Chicago, is already scheduled to travel to several other history events throughout the year and is unlikely to be able to attend.  

Registration opened last weekend.  The size of the facility, generously donated by IBM and the folks at IBM's Cambridge Innovation Lab, will limit the number who can attend, so if you'd like to join us on March 8, register now.  And please consider speaking.  As John notes below, as an unconference, History Camp will very much be what we make it.  More information, including the current list of presentations, is at the History Camp wiki.

Come to History Camp, Saturday, 8 March
Posted by J.L. Bell on 25 Jan 2014 at Boston 1775

On Saturday, 8 March, Lee Wright of The History List is organizing a “History Camp” at the I.B.M. Innovation Center in Cambridge. This event is designed to be an “unconference,” or self-organizing, non-hierarchical conference, for anyone in greater Boston interested in history.

The program will depend on who signs up to speak in the next few weeks. The presentations are supposed to be short and lively. The only requirement is that they not be just a sales pitch for a book, tour, class, or other product. I imagine those presentations falling into two categories:
neat stories and findings about the past and practical tips about researching, writing, and teaching history.

I proposed two topics to Lee, one in each of those categories: “The Boston Bankruptcy That Led to the American Revolution” and “Google Books Changed My Life, and You Can, Too!” In addition, Lee drafted me for a tentative panel on “Becoming a Published Author” because I was once an acquiring editor for a book publisher.

Lee had the idea for History Camp after last fall’s RevWar Schmoozer. That informal social event brought together people from our city’s historic sites, reenacting organizations, libraries, museums, tour companies, colleges, and other institutions. It would be great to an even broader turnout at this event, which isn’t confined to the Revolutionary period. Given its setting, this History Camp might be an especially good place to talk about using new technology to improve the study or presentation of history.

As a self-organizing conference, History Camp will take shape over the next few weeks based on the interests of the folks who volunteer their time or ideas. So check out the website, think about the stories you might have to tell or would like to hear, and start signing up!

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December 20, 2013

Final hours for the Higgins Armory Museum, closing forever on December 31, 2013

Updated January 1, 2014: The Higgins Armory Museum is closed forever.  Some of the items will be on display a the Worcester Art Museum in the future.

The Higgins Armory Museum closes in a few days, and I can't think of a better or more important "present" than making a trip to see this world-class collection of arms and armor—one of the three best in the Americas—in a purpose-built building that will soon close its doors. 

The Higgins is no typical museum, and after hearing a detailed briefing on the planned display of a few pieces of the collection in their new home at the Worcester Art Museum in 2014, anyone who is interested in seeing a large number of the pieces, walking through the great hall next to jousting nights on mounts, must go now.  While the collection will be going across town, the experience of the Higgins and the ability to see a large part of the collection in such a magnificent setting will soon be gone forever.  (The "current thinking" from the Worcester Art Museum includes a large gallery space in the year "2019+."  More information about the decision to close is on the museum's site and in this Boston Globe article from March 8, 2013.)

John Woodman Higgins began building the Higgins in 1929 to house his beloved collection, and the armory opened to the public in 1931.  These are, literally, the Higgins museum's final hours—as I post this, there are 54 34 hours left—and your last chance to see the collection there.

Their calendar lists daily activities, including special events during vacation week.

If you have any doubt about the unique experience that is the Higgins, take a close look at the pictures below, then give yourself and your family a very special present this year: Take them to see the Higgins.  While the Higgins will be gone forever, your memories will last a lifetime.


20 Friday 10 am - 4 pm
21 Saturday 10 am - 4 pm
22 Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

23 Monday 10 am - 4 pm
24 Tuesday Closed
25 Wednesday Closed
26 Thursday 10 am - 4 pm
27 Friday 10 am - 4 pm
28 Saturday 10 am - 4 pm
29 Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

30 Monday 10 am - 4 pm
31 Tuesday 10 am - 3:45 pm

Note: The staff recommends visiting around 12 pm or 12: 30 pm.  They report that they usually have a line out the door when the museums opens in the morning.

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Planning your visit (taken from their site):

Higgins Armory Museum
100 Barber Avenue
Worcester, MA 01606

Adults (age 17+) $12.00
Seniors (age 60+) $10.00
College Students (with ID) $9.00
Children (age 4 to 16) $8.00
Children age 3 and under are FREE
Members enjoy FREE admission to the museum for a whole year.

Special Senior Citizen Discount: Tuesdays are Senior Days at Higgins Armory. If you are 60 and older, you will be admitted for an extra dollar off the senior price every Tuesday (that’s just $9.00 per senior). You’ll also receive a 10% discount on all purchases in our Museum Store (excluding clearance). Offer only valid on purchases made on Tuesdays from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm. Be sure to mention this offer at the admission desk and in the Museum Store. No other discounts can be used in conjunction with either discount. Offer does not apply to group or special program admission rates.

Public WOO CardCollege WOO Card: Show your WOO Card and Save
Public Woo Card: Save $2 off Adult General Admission
College Woo Card: Save $5 off Adult General Admission

Tips to make the best of your visit

  • Your touch, though meant to explore, will damage the arms and armor. Please do not to touch any of the objects in our collection. Visit Castle Quest, our large hands-on exhibit, for arms and armor that can be touched!
  • Children age 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
  • Photography is encouraged! Tripods are only permitted with special permission or during our Arms and Artists program. 
  • Service animals are welcome, but pets should stay home.
  • Large bags and coats are not permitted in the galleries. Please leave these items in our cloakroom or, for security, in your car during your visit.
  • Food and beverages are not allowed in the galleries. Snacks and drinks are available in the Museum Store. Our Information Desk staff would be happy to help you locate a restaurant nearby.
  • Smoking is not permitted in the museum.


From Boston
Take the I-90/Mass Pike West to Exit 11A, I-495 North. Take I-495 North to Exit 25B, I-290 West. Take I-290 West to Exit 19, I-190 North. Take I-190 North to Exit 1, Rt. 12 North. Follow Rt. 12 North for ¼ mile, Greendale Mall will be on the right. Stay in right lane over the railroad bridge. Take first right after bridge onto Barber Avenue (no street sign).
Travel less than ¼ mile straight ahead to the museum, a four-story glass and steel building with pennants and a knight on the roof.

From New Hampshire and the North Shore
Take 1-495 South to Exit 25B, I-290 West. Take I-290 West to Exit 19, I-190 North. Take I-190 North to Exit 1, Rt. 12 North. Follow Rt. 12 North for ¼ mile, Greendale Mall will be on the right. Stay in right lane over the railroad bridge. Take first right after bridge onto Barber Avenue (no street sign). Travel less than ¼ mile straight ahead to the museum, a four-story glass and steel building with pennants and a knight on the roof.

From Providence, RI
Take Rt. 146 North to I-290 East. Take I-290 East to Exit 19, I-190 North. Take I-190 North to Exit 1, Rt. 12 North. Follow Rt. 12 North for ¼ mile, Greendale Mall will be on the right. Stay in right lane over the railroad bridge. Take first right after bridge onto Barber Avenue (no street sign). Travel less than ¼ mile straight ahead to the museum, a four-story glass and steel building with pennants and a knight on the roof.

From Albany, NY and Springfield, MA
Take I-90 East/Mass Pike to Exit 10, I-290 East. Take I-290 East to Exit 19, I-190 North. Take I-190 North to Exit 1, Rt. 12 North. Follow Rt. 12 North for ¼ mile, Greendale Mall will be on the right. Stay in right lane over the railroad bridge. Take first right after bridge onto Barber Avenue (no street sign).Travel less than ¼ mile straight ahead to the museum, a four-story glass and steel building with pennants and a knight on the roof.

From New York City, NY and Hartford, CT
Take I-84 East to I-90 East/Mass Pike. Take I-90 East/Mass Pike to Exit 10, I-290 East. Take I-290 East to Exit 19, I-190 North. Take I-190 North to Exit 1, Rt. 12 North. Follow Rt. 12 North for ¼ mile, Greendale Mall will be on the right. Stay in right lane over the railroad bridge. Take first right after bridge onto Barber Avenue (no street sign). Travel less than ¼ mile straight ahead to the museum, a four-story glass and steel building with pennants and a knight on the roof.

From Fitchburg/Leominster, MA
Take I-190 South to Exit 1, Rt. 12 South. Take second left and then left again onto Gold Star Boulevard/Rt. 12 North. Follow Rt. 12 North for ¼ mile, Greendale Mall will be on the right. Stay in right lane over the railroad bridge. Take first right after bridge onto Barber Avenue (no street sign). Travel less than ¼ mile straight ahead to the museum, a four-story glass and steel building with pennants and a knight on the roof.

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December 4, 2013

History Camp: An idea for an unconference in Boston in 2014

A small group of us are starting to plan "History Camp," a topic-specific unconference (or "BarCamp") to be held in the Boston/Cambridge area in late winter/early spring 2014—assuming, that is, that enough people are committed to making it happen and in attending.  If there isn't a critical mass, then it won't.  So it's up to us.  Are you interested?  If so, please dive in.  We'd love to have you.

The information below is from the wiki page on BarCamp.org.

When is it?

On a Saturday in February (unlikely), March, or April

Where is it?

Somewhere in the Boston or Cambridge area, or the surrounding area.  Do you have a space where this could be held?  The idea space will have one large room and several smaller rooms (classroom size) for the sessions.  If you have a space, please let us know

Who is organizing this?  How can I help?

Thanks for asking--especially that second question.  Here's the page for volunteers

What is a BarCamp or Unconference?

  • It's a self-organizing conference.  People who share a common interest get together and create the framework for the event.  The on-scene volunteers, presenters, and everyone else who attends make it happen.  The topics that are presented are the ones of interest to the presenters.  The sessions that are well-attended are the ones that are of interest to the attendees.
  • It's free, though it uses a pay-what-you-want model to cover the cost of things like coffee in the morning or lunch.  Ideally, folks will chip in $10 or $20.  However, no one is required to pay anything and no one should feel that they shouldn't attend because they can't chip in financially.  They may want to consider volunteering a little time to help organize, set up, or clean up at the end.  The goal is to break even.  If some individuals or organizations step up as sponsors, then we'll have t-shirts.  If we're not able to find a free space, the event won't happen. 
  • Read more about BarCamps on the home page and other pages linked from it. Browsing the Boston BarCamp 2010 session board
  • There is a great annual barcamp in Boston.  Browsing their site gives you an idea of what a large, well-run barcamp looks like.  (The photo shows the session board on Saturday at the 200 Boston Barcamp.)  Since we're just starting out and since there is a specific topic area, we expect that we'll have a much smaller group, but the goal is the same: Creating a place and time where people can share their enthusiasm for history and their knowledge and insights from with others.

What is History Camp? 

  • History as broadly defined, across geographies and over time.  Yes, it's Boston, but this isn't intended to be limited to the Revolutionary War--or on the United States, for that matter.  Ultimately, it's the speakers and attendees that will define the scope.  Hopefully it will be broad in a way that is of interest to many people.
  • What about genealogy?  Sure.  
  • Has this been done before?  Not that we know of.  There's a very successful program from George Mason University called THAT Camp, The Humanities and Technology Camp.  History Camp is envisioned as being a true BarCamp, open to all.  No need to apply.  No advance screening of topics and presenters.  
  • In short, History Camp is what we make it.  Please join in.
  • It is not, however, a venue for a sales pitch.  In other words, if you are an expert at preserving very old books, do not come and give a talk about how you provide a great service and why people should hire you to repair and preserve their old books.  Rather, give a talk that has useful information, perhaps tips and techniques, so that, regardless of whether the person listening hires you or decides to undertake the work themselves, they walk away with new information that they value.

Who is this for?

You, if you're interested in history.  We hope that students of all ages, teachers and professors, authors, reenactors, interpreters, museum and historical society directors and board members, genealogists, and, most of all, history enthusiasts come.

What topic areas might be covered?

Here are some broad topic areas.  They're offered as a way to stimulate ideas and interest.  Would you like to present on one or more, or collaborate with someone else to present?  If so, please insert a bullet with the specific topic, and add your name and e-mail address.  Is there a topic you're interested in that's not listed?  Please add it.

  • Historic eras and events, trends, battles and wars, historic figures, little-known history.
  • Historic sites: Background, preservation, generating attendance. 
  • Careers: Becoming an interpreter or Park Ranger (full time or for the summer), working in a history museum.
  • Education: Getting a masters or PhD. 
  • Preservation of artifacts, such as caring for old books or clothing that has have been passed down in your family.
  • Historic preservation: Sites, commercial and industrial buildings, homes. 
  • Teaching history: In grade school and high school, in college, educating the public broadly.
  • Digital history/humanities. 
  • History books and blogs: Popular and enthusiast publications, getting published, creating and maintaining a site or blog.
  • Genealogy: Research tools, recommendations for specific techniques or overcoming specific hurdles 
  • History games and gaming
  • Reenacting: How to get involved, putting on a large-scale reenactment
  • please add more . . . 

Specific topics requested or committed (with your name and e-mail address) 

  • Example of requesting a topic: Wanted: King Philips War in Sudbury, Marlborough, and surrounding communities
  • Example of committing to a topic:  Lessons learned from holding the first History Camp -- Lee Wright

Okay.  Now I get it.  Sounds fun.  How can I help?

Great!  Here's the page for volunteers


  • What if I can't get there at the beginning or stay until the end?  Come whenever you can and stay as long as you like. 
  • My son/daughter is in junior high and likes history.  Can I bring them with me?  Definitely! 
  • Can I come in my reenactor attire?  Definitely!

And thanks to . . .

. . . these individuals and organizations.


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November 12, 2013

Getting a job as an interpreter at a historic site: What to include on your resume and why

Updated April 4, 2014: If you are looking for a job related to history, you'll be interested in the video of the panel discussion at History Camp on that subject: "Employment options for history lovers."

Updated April 22, 2014: This new post focuses on landing an internship.

"What should I include on my resume if I want to get a job as an interpreter at a historic site?"  That question and others like it have been asked on various lists, however I have yet to see anyone who hires people reply.

I recently talked with someone who is responsible for hiring interpreters at a historic site in the greater Boston area and was fascinated by what she looks for when she reviews resumes.  Some of it surprised me, and I knew all of it would be of interest to anyone looking to get a job as an interpreter at a historic site.  Note that this site is not owned by the National Park Service.  (The photo of the interpreter was taken at Old Sturbridge Village; Old Sturbridge Village is not the historic site where the person interviewed for this post works.)

Six critical skills

Historic interpreter in the farm at Old Sturbridge Village

Interest in history: "I can't tell you how many cover letters I get in which the writer claims that they really love history, but when I look through their resume, they've never done anything that shows they have that interest--not even joining the history club in college."

Dealing with children: "They might have worked at a children's museum or been a teacher."

Communicating to the public: "This is fundamental.  Have they had to talk to the public before?  I need to see that experience on their resume.  Mybe they were a tour guide at their college.”

Customer service: “Customer service experience—-hospitality—-is a key role for interpreters.  They’re the people that our guests, who coming here on their free time—-on the weekend or maybe on vacation-—interact with  They want to learn, but they also want an enjoyable experience.” 

Dealing with pressure: "We have a lot of people come through, and sometime it gets hectic.  People have to know how to deal with that and not get flustered."

Experience handling money:  "All or our interpreters may, at some point, be involved with selling tickets or items in the gift shop.  Working as a cashier at a supermarket or a waiter or waitress clearly shows that they can handle money, but people will leave those jobs off their resumes.  They're thinking that those jobs are going to detract from their history work, but I'm looking for experience handling money, so when I see those types of jobs, that boosts their chances.  They definitely should leave them on. . . Being a cashier at a supermarket is great experience.  You can deal with money and pressure, and you had to be nice to every person that went through your line, even if they weren't." 

Other comments

"Mormon Missionary!  I saw that once and I called that person immediately.  Those people have to get out, introduce themselves to others, interest them in what they have to say, and be polite, regardless of the reaction of the person they're talking with.  And then, even if they had the door slammed in their face, they walk down the street, knock on another door, smiling and pleasant."

"Some people put down their experience with archives and collections, and that's fine, but since we do interpretation and aren't involved in that area, that experience just isn’t that relevant as an interpreter, at least at our site.  And because those jobs turn over so rarely, it's not as if that person is  likely to even have an opportunity to be considered for that position.  It is a good demonstration of an interest in history and in museums, but six different internships in archives makes me think you ought to be looking for a position in archives.  A guide job is not likely to turn into an archives position.   I'm really looking for people who want to be museum interpreters."

“A museum studies degree helps, but that’s certainly not enough on its own.  I’m willing to help a museum studies or public history student get started with an entry level position, but they need to have the other skills.” 

"Our hiring is somewhat seasonal, and I hang on to resumes.  So you may not hear from me for three months, but I've kept your resume, and I'll pull it out and look at it for our next round of hiring."

"It's a small positive if someone speaks a foreign language.  Sometimes they put it down separately.  If they've studied the language in school or spent a semester abroad, I assume that they can can speak at least a little of the language."

"You don't need to list that you know Microsoft Word or have 'computer skills.'  This is an interpreter job, not an office job.  I'm far more interested in their verbal skills than their computer skills."

"People need to be patient and to realize that not everyone has the same background as they do when it comes to the period we represent.  You can't talk down to people, and yes, you'll get some dumb questions, so teaching or coaching experience shows me that you can break things down and understand how to explain things to someone who just doesn't have the knowledge or background that you do.  Some people need you to start with the basics., but that doesn't mean that they aren't smart.  They've come here and have shown an interest.  What a great opportunity for someone who loves teaching."

"A masters or PhD in history does not guarantee you a spot on the short list, and you don't have to have to have been a history undergrad.  You do need to have some of these other skills, I need to see those on your resume."

Your experience

Comments received since the inital post include . . .

Another thing we often look for is people with a bit of acting experience.  Community theatre in addition to the love of history often moves that person up on our list.  You automatically know that they are okay with costumes, scripts and first person interpretation.  Having a Masters or PhD cannot guarantee that.

— Public Programs Coordinator at a state museum (November 13, 2013)


Be sure to include special skills and successful experience you might have: storytelling, music, theater, puppeteer, drawing/painting/sculpting, historic trade or domestic art, whittling, historic gardening or agricultural activities, horse backing riding, etc.  These are skills that might enhance one's interpretation and serve different learning styles.  And, please indicate that you understand that interpretation is more than just giving toursthere are a lot of different modes of interpretation.  If you don't know about this, read up on the current literature and intern with good mentors or trainers.  Look at the work and workshops of National Association for Interpretation; Association for Living History, Agricultural and Farm Museums; and specialty skill organizations.

— Kathryn "Katie" Boardman
Principal at The Cherry Valley Group, Adjunct Professor CGP, Board Member at Cooperstown Graduate Association (CGA)
(November 18, 2013)


Have you hired interpreters or others for a historic site or other history organization?  If you'd like to share your recommendations, let me know.  We'll add them here or in another post; we won't publish your name or organization.

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