Young people fascinated with history

History is for old fogeys, right? Well, then, what are all these young people doing volunteering at the Washington County Historical Society? And, why are high and middle school students engaged with in-depth historical research projects?

Interns and volunteers find hidden surprises and projects

In the last two years, WCHS has had some amazing work from young people deeply interested in aspects of history. Janina Wiles came on board about two years ago to develop job skills for a career in history. Janina found her niche originally in cataloging old documents, but has gone on to assist genealogical researchers in the library and help staff and board members prepare exhibits.

Most of the other volunteers have come to work on a degree program, build a resume or complete required intern hours.

Last summer, Katie Kitner McGowan, a graduate student at Penn State University, Harrisburg, Pa., dove into our garment collection with relish, both from a student’s perspective and from a sheer appreciation of what stories one could weave about clothing worn by long-past generations. Her work throughout the season focused on the preservation of textiles and ended with a fantastic exhibit.

Miranda Downey works on her Student Service Learning hours by volunteering in many ways. A senior student at Broadfording Christian Academy, west of Hagerstown, Miranda helped prepare materials for program presentations and accompanied me while conducting tours through the Miller House.

This year Anna Cueto, who received her Bachelor of Arts in history from McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., and is about to begin her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, brought enthusiasm to a project of preparing a collection of books for sale. The books were given through an estate to help raise some funds for WCHS. She then jumped in to continue to work on the garment collection and to help prepare for a major exhibit. Anna will also visit our Sister City, Wesel, Germany, soon.
“I like to know where we have come from individually and as a people,” Anna said about her interest in history.

Mary Kavanagh, a graduate student from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., chose to work on helping us establish social media outlets that some of us old fogeys found challenging. Mary was not with us long, but she clearly was interested in our work. She is about to begin a new job with Strayer College Loudon County Campus in Ashburn, Va., as Learning Resource Center manager.

Patrick McGowan, who is working on an internship with Shippensburg University, has a specific interest in the history of the C&O Canal and as he comes on board, we look forward to getting his input to our work.

He will join, also new this summer, Katie Noll, a senior public history major at Shepherd University, who also has a computer technology background.
Katie said she chose WCHS as a place in order to share her talent.

“History explains why,” she said. “It is a never-ending story with characters who are regular people but do extraordinary things.”

There are many opportunities for exhibit planning, research, preservation, cataloging and direct connection to visitors within the work of WCHS. Each one of these young people has at some point exclaimed that they had no idea of the extent of our collection and the depth of history represented within the library and archives.

High and middle school students meet National History Day Challenge

“Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events” was the theme of National History Day this year. 

In March and early April, a number of Washington County Public School students rose to the challenge of producing a project that followed the theme from beginning to end. That included identifying the subject, researching the subject and interpreting why and how it represented a turning point in history by describing the impact.

The state competition was on April 27. National judging is slated for Sunday, June 9 through Thursday, June 13.

This annual competition is open to middle and high school students. They compete first at the school level and then go on to the county level. It is extremely important to the judging that the theme be completed to the point of summary, a real challenge to a student who is new to finding primary resources about the subject and analyzing what changed in the world as a result.

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