Rare Original Printing of the Declaration of Independence to Kick Off National History Day Contest

Thousands of Students and Teachers from Around the Country Gather to Compete for Gold, Silver, Bronze Prizes and Scholarships in Preeminent Educational Contest

Jun 14, 2010, 10:00 ET from National History Day

COLLEGE PARK, Md., June 14 /PRNewswire/ -- The Declaration of Independence – one of 26 known to exist from the original July 4, 1776, printing – today was the centerpiece of a kick-off event with thousands of schoolchildren from around the country on the campus of the University of Maryland to commemorate National History Day.

On its first visit to Maryland, the rare original printing joined approximately 2,500 of the nation's outstanding middle and high school history students and their teachers from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa, and Department of Defense and International Schools, at the University of Maryland for a commemorative "celebration of democracy."  The event kicked off a competitive week in which the students will compete for gold, silver and bronze national awards, as well as college scholarships, at the 2010 Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest (June 13-17).  

This rare Declaration of Independence is one of the original 200 "Dunlap Broadsides" printed on July 4, 1776, and is now owned by Hollywood producer and philanthropist, Norman Lear, who lent the document to honor National History Day's students and teachers.  

National History Day (NHD), which started in 1974 on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, is an annual, nationwide history competition and the only program of its kind that involves middle and high school students in an immersive, innovative learning program about history – both U.S. history and global history.  Teachers incorporate the NHD curriculum into their classrooms or offer the program as an extracurricular activity; the program works with state and federal education standards set for history and language arts.  

Annually, half a million students participate in this national program by creating presentations that bring primary-source research to life through table-top exhibitions, documentaries, live performances, websites and research papers.  

"History is a living text that is part of our lives on a daily basis – filled with incredible moments of discovery and exciting stories," said Ken Burns, award-winning filmmaker and National History Day Honorary Advisory Board member.  "National History Day is the only program of its kind that teaches young people to learn, celebrate and interpret history in their own creative ways.  It's so exciting to see how these young storytellers and scholars come to their own conclusions and create projects that are well-researched, innovative and entertaining."

The year's winners from individual state History Day contests will compete in this week's history challenge on the theme of "Innovation in History," which will culminate in a Thursday award ceremony for students and educators at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.  More than 300 judges –including historians and educators from secondary and higher education institutions, museums, archives, and government agencies – will evaluate the students' award-winning work throughout the week.

According to the most recent federal study of American students' academic ability in history, the 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the "nation's report card," approximately half – 47 percent – of U.S. 12th graders are performing at a "basic" level in history.  And a little more than one in ten high school seniors – 13 percent – perform at a "proficient" level in the subject matter.

"The National History Day program works because it is innovative and immersive – it offers young people with varying degrees of academic ability the opportunity to create projects on topics of their choosing, in the medium that works best for them," said Dr. Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day.  "We really need to continue to emphasize the importance of history education and achievement for our young people – understanding history is vital to the continuation of our democracy."

Beyond academics, National History Day students and programs have benefited the larger community.  In 2003, three of Chicago-based award-winning schoolteacher Barry Bradford's students decided to work on the "cold case" of three unsolved 1964 civil rights murders – the Mississippi Burning case – as a documentary project for National History Day.  Their work produced new evidence that helped in the decision of prosecutors to re-open the case, and it was used in the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, who was then convicted for organizing the 1964 murders of the three civil rights workers.

The NHD students' projects competing for prizes this year include: "Vaccines: The Musical," a theatrical presentation about the history and impact of vaccines; "Google: Impact and Change," a live performance that illustrates Google's impact on a generation; "Off the Bench and Onto the Field: How Title IX Changed Girls' Athletics and Education," a theatrical performance that portrays the 70-year fight for equality in sports; "Al Qaeda and the Internet: A New Age in Terror," a documentary that discusses and analyzes terrorists' contemporary use of the Web, and more.  

People can watch daily "webisodes" from National History Day's contest week on NHD's YouTube channel.  

For more information about National History Day, please visit www.NationalHistoryDay.org or join NHD at:  

SOURCE National History Day