History Day Winners: 8th-graders on the Lincolns

September 9, 2014

NHD_logoThree 8th-grade students at the Open World Learning Community school in St. Paul, Minnesota–Sam Dale-Gau, Bjorn Holm, and Eli Sage-Martinson–placed fifth at the National History Day Finals in the category of Junior Group Documentary for their work on the history of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The three produced a short documentary film based on archival research and interviews. The Finals were held June 15-19 in Washington DC. Here’s their report (slightly abridged).

Sam, Eli and Bjorn

Sam, Eli and Bjorn

At the beginning of the year we spent nearly a month attempting to settle on a topic. One day while we were researching, we came across an interesting website pertaining to the Spanish Civil War. We were amazed by the sacrifice the Brigade made for what they believed in and the bravery they exemplified throughout the war. We became familiar with our topic by reading online articles and public library books. Next, we took a trip to the University of Minnesota and looked at their microfilm and books to get a better idea of what was going on around the time of the Spanish Civil War. We found several professors and held email discussions about the impact of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. We even made contact with Sebastiaan Faber, the current board chair of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, the organization established by veterans of the brigade. Through our research we found many mentions of documentaries produced about the Brigade and looked into them. We discovered some memoirs written by actual survivors of the Brigade. We took a trip to the Carleton and Wilson libraries to peruse their large newspaper archives for information from the time of the war. Finally, we watched and listened to tapes of the Brigade and CDs of their anthems that we received from Peter Rachleff, a professor at Macalester College.

The first competition was within our school. At that point we had a rough script and a good idea of where we were planning to go with it. Between then and the regional event we broadened our research to encompass two interviews and a variety of texts from the University of Minnesota. At Regionals we had a full-fledged documentary overflowing with content. Advancing from Regionals was a big relief that didn’t last long because soon we were pulled into the thrall of statewide history day. The time between Regionals and state was probably the period when our project evolved the most. We conducted an interview with another professor, were given footage of an interview with one of the veterans himself, and accessed newspaper articles from the late 1930’s. 

We arrived at the state competition feeling confident and prepared to compete. The film played well and it seemed as if our judges enjoyed it, the interview also went flawlessly. After waiting for what seemed like eternity, we walked to another building on campus to discover that we had made finals. This meant we would have to show our documentary one more time, and would also be competing to attend Nationals in Washington D.C. After an hour and a half of nervous fidgeting and frequent bathroom breaks, our names were announced as first place winners of the junior group documentary division! This meant we would be attending Nationals in June.

As Nationals neared we hurried to record our newly edited script and edit the documentary. The time we did spend competing was intense and nerve wracking. Like at State, we did well in the first round and came away feeling confident. Later that day, the results were posted on three large TVs and we found out that we had made the National finals! This meant the same as State, we would present our project one more time. It went well and we watched other competitors documentary’s and began to feel less confident. Then, out of nowhere, it was time for the awards ceremony. Amidst all the excitement and state pride, we nervously fiddled with our backpacks, phones, shirts, pants, you name it. Then, we were up, “Junior group documentary.” First place went by, second, then third, our names were not called. Our state coordinator came up to us afterward and told us we had gotten 5th place, not bad. Overall, History Day was a amazing experience that united us with some of the best people we had ever met. And we believe it will prepare us for college and life beyond.