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A Day in History

March, 2012
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first-place-dramatic-performanceConcordia International School Shanghai (Concordia) hosted the 4th Annual 2012 Shanghai History Day, an interactive competition focused on historical research for Middle and High School students. The theme of this year’s event was “Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in History,” featuring different competing categories: original research papers, documentaries, website and exhibits, and dramatic performances.

In addition to the host school Concordia, Shanghai History Day featured participants and support by many other prestigious international schools across Asia, including British International School Shanghai-Puxi, Bugil Academy, Cambridge International Centre of Shanghai Normal University, Cheong Shim International Academy, Dulwich College Shanghai, Dulwich College Suzhou, Fudan International school, Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies, Korea International School, Korea Kent Foreign School, Korea Minjuk Leadership Academy, Seoul International School, Shanghai American School-Pudong, Shanghai Community International School and Yew Cheung International School of Shanghai.

first-place-group-websiteThe purpose of the Shanghai History Day is to provide a platform for young and aspiring students to create and showcase their unique historical projects and help them acquire new written and oral communication skills. Participation and award achievements in the competition will also add valuable extra-curricular points to the participants’ college applications.

After months of research, writing, and rehearsals both inside and outside of class, all participants gathered at the Concordia Rittmann Theater on March 3rd, 2012 for the opening ceremony, and were then separated into different areas for presentations in front of the judges, teachers, parents, and peers based on their project categories.

Students in dramatic performances performed in proper costumes on the Rittmann Theater stage in front of the judging panel, whereas students in the documentary category screened their films in specified classrooms. All research paper entrants went through an interview process with the judges, explaining their findings. An exhibition area was set up to display all the projects in the website category. These different mediums are merely tools to convey their research findings, but a big portion of the judging criteria was placed on the quality and accuracy of their actual research content. 

For the documentary category, students produced a short documentary film in which they had to do every part of the production from researching to script writing, voiceover recording, and editing. The students took turns screening their film on a large TV monitor in front of the classroom. No verbal explanations were allowed during screenings, but they were required to go through a Q&A session with the judges after the screening. Some of the film topics included “The 1911 Chinese Revolution,” “Bruce Lee,” and “Reshaping Womanhood through Fashion- Coco Chanel” (Hannah Klingberg, Audrey Lee, Jenny Ferranti of Concordia), and with the latter winning first place for Group documentary film.

img_23341“Shanghai History Day offers students the opportunity to go deep into historical topics that interest them, but they must learn to think critically and research by looking at both sides of the issue,” explains Karin Semler, the Director of student Life at Concordia and one of the judges for this year’s event. “It’s also important that they show their passion for the topic during their presentations and explain why it interests them and why they chose that specific topic!”

“I had initial culture shock when I first arrived in Shanghai five years ago, but now I have developed more awareness for other cultures and this has inspired me to learn about other people and their backgrounds,” says Sidney Musser, a sophomore at Concordia, whose paper “Changing Tides: The Dutch Revolution & Eighty Years War” won first place in the research paper category. “I chose the topic because I was inspired by the Dutch heroes who gained their independence through 80 years of struggle. Shanghai History Day is a great way to learn about history because we get to choose our own topic and become expert in that topic”.

In addition to Musser’s research, there were many dramatic performance pieces that earned high praise. One of the most outstanding performances among a long list of great projects was the winning project for Group Dramatic Performance, “Hearing the Deaf Speak: The Milan Congress of 1880” (Maggie Wang, Sophia Lim, Denise Yee, and Li Shan Wee of CONCORDIA). The students cleverly incorporated sign language into their intense theater performance and won the top prize in the ultra-competitive category. Li Shan Wee, one of the team members, is a loyal supporter of Shanghai History Day and this year marked her 3rd entry in the contest. She was also part of the winning team in group dramatic performance last year with the project, “Dr. Feng Shan Ho’s Life-Saving Diplomacy” and went on to claim second place in the world at the 2011 National History Day  National Finals in Washington D.C. 

Shanghai History Day provided a great experience for kids to learn new skills in critical thinking and oral and written communication. The skills they acquired can be applied to their future studies as they enter college or a career. It’s a lifetime skill that they can put into practice in anything they do.

After all the presentations concluded in the morning, students waited for the final decisions from the judges. This provided an opportunity for Shanghai History Day to continue its guest speaker series, where the school invites world-renowned historians to share their expertise and experience with students. This year the guest speaker was Dr. Brent Glass, the director of the celebrated Smithsonian National Museum of American History, one of the most prestigious and resourceful museums in America. It is also the venue where the National History Day National Finals are held in Washington D.C.

img_22881Dr. Glass provided a very interactive lecture segment as he shared with the audience his 25 must-see locations that define America from his currently untitled new book. He also invited students to share some of their must-see sites as well. Some of Dr. Glass’ exclusive sites included the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park, Route 66, and even Disney World. “History is a resource that helps us understand our own life, and it’s a life skill necessary to function in society,” says Dr. Glass. As students gathered to listen diligently on the importance of history, Dr. Glass also provided sound advice to these young aspiring historians. “You must read a lot! Read 3-4 different versions of history, read works from different authors and be active and visit monuments and explore history first hand. Don’t rely on the Internet to get the story!”

The winner and finalists from each category have earned the opportunity to attend the National History Day National Finals in Washington D.C. this coming June to show their work at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History along with other students from across the globe. As these young historians sat down for instructions on their upcoming trip, Mark Johnson, humanities teacher at Concordia and the affiliated coordinator of National History Day for international schools in Asia, has already begun spreading the competition event to other international schools in Asia. The first ever National History Day events were held respectively in Korea at the Seoul International School and The British International School Jakarta in Indonesia this past February.

There is an old saying that “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” but Mark Johnson offered a more positive comment on how studying history can benefit kids and their future. “It empowers them to make history come alive and be relevant,” says an excited Mark Johnson. “It gives life meaning by studying the past.”


By Richard Chung

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