—Jamie McEachin, Head Copy Editor—
Are you interested in uncovering history? Have you ever wondered about the undiscovered, often unknown branches of your own family tree? Everyone has parts of their ancestry that they know very little about; in Historical Research, that curiosity feeds an entire class focused on training students to be skilled researchers while they by examine documents and artifacts of the past. Historical Research is taught by Mrs. Winter, who primarily teaches U.S. history, and is an honors-level elective class driven by students working on independent research projects.
When asked why she was excited to take Historical Research, Rebecca Cantor, a junior, explained, “I was tired of AP classes that were strictly lectures and notes; I saw this class on one of the scheduling sheets, and I asked a friend if she knew anyone in the class. It sounded like it would be something I would be interested in, with independent projects instead of projects just to fill that credit for a teacher.”
Grace Lawler, who is a senior in the class, was drawn to the class by the fact that it is all project-based and in-class. “I liked not having a lot of homework, or having a lot of outside work, and knowing I just had to come to the class and work on my work, and then go home and not do anything for it,” she says.
Many students are also drawn to Historical Research because of the unique topics of its projects. The class covers the local history of Chesterfield County as its opening project, discovering the lives of those buried in local cemeteries and graveyards during the late 1800s through census records.
Most prominently, Historical Research devotes part of the school year to genealogy, where students independently research their family histories in-depth on Ancestry.com, often discovering surprising individuals or histories that feature in their ancestry.
“I’m looking forward to our next project, which will be about our own family’s genealogy, our family trees,” says Luke Hardin.
Students can be creative with their genealogy, researching people who are not immediate family, or those family members that are not biological relatives. Rebecca Cantor says, “I’m actually really excited to do the genealogy, because although I can’t do much about my own family since they’re more international, it’ll give me an opportunity to learn more about my stepdad’s family, because I don’t know much about him.”
Students also participate in the National History Day competition, creating a research project, like an exhibit or historical paper, on a topic of their choice. They have the option to compete at the regional, state, or national levels with the strength of their topic and research.
“The projects are really engaging and different from any other class, especially the National History Day project,” says Carter Helmandollar, a previous class member. “I actually competed with my NHD project and ended up progressing all the way to the national competition, which was an amazing experience I wouldn’t have had without this class.”
When asked about research projects she is looking forward to working on, Grace Lawler says, “I know we’re doing National History Day, and I’m excited about that. And for the veterans project we’re doing, since I’m probably going to use my dad since he’s a veteran. I’m excited about that because that’s not something we talk about a lot.”
Historical Research is all about using what the past left behind to understand the present; by examining census records, marriage certificates, and birth and death records, we get a window into the past to view how life then shaped the now. But without the research skills Mrs. Winter teaches her students, they wouldn’t be able to collect, comprehend, or analyze the historical data they come across.
“I didn’t realize there were different aspects to [research], I didn’t know anything about historiography before taking this class, and that there is a method to it,” says Rebecca Cantor. “Before, I’d just google something, and whatever came up first was it; I didn’t plan. It’s taught me that there is a method.”
Unlike many other electives offered, Historical Research imparts research skills that Mrs. Winter intends to be useful for college and the workforce. Carter Helmandollar says, “Research with Mrs. Winter was a very valuable class for me. Not only did I learn a lot of useful skills, like learning how to approach researching topics for papers and projects, which will easily translate to college, but I genuinely enjoyed being in her class.”
When asked if she will use the skills she has collected from Historical Research for future projects, Rebecca Cantor says, “Yeah, I will. I’m excited to do that, actually. Because then my project will be better than everyone else’s.”