Peter Rachleff: Looking for History Day help? Check out the East Side Freedom Library

Students and mentors worked on History Day projects at the ESFL last year.

The East Side Freedom Library invites the middle and high school students in your families to benefit from our rich resources and our experienced mentors.

National History Day is a great program in which students are challenged to develop a project as an illustration of a theme. Students, individually or in small teams, might take months developing their approach, conducting research and shaping their presentation. They take ownership of presenting their project – on a storyboard, in a paper, in a performance, in a video or via an interactive website. They not only present historical materials, but they must also make an argument about how their topic affected individuals, communities, nations or the world, changing the course of human society.

History Day students not only learn new things about history and learn the value of historical thinking, but they also develop their social skills and self-confidence.

The 2023 theme asks young people to think about how engagement with frontiers – in space, among people and in the emergence of new ideas – has shaped our history, in the U.S. and around the world.

This is a great theme within which they might explore labor activism, racial justice, women’s rights, the impact of GLBTQ+ movements, environmental activism and more. A frontier may be geographical – an area thought to be on the edge of a settlement – or a border between countries or peoples. Ideas can also be presented as frontiers.

Students might explore the work of individuals or organizations who have thought of new ways of organizing human life politically, economically, religiously or socially, and assess the impact of these new ideas. Frontiers are crossed by those who challenge conventional thinking. Students may find inspiration in the stories of those who have challenged traditional boundaries of race, class and gender.

Here’s one great example. In 1920, economist Carter L. Goodrich published “The Frontier of Control: A Study of British Workshop Politics.” At the heart of this book was his argument that every workplace has an invisible line dividing where management’s authority ends and workers’ authority begins.

Goodrich argued that these “frontiers of control” moved from the day shift to the night shift, from days with higher absenteeism (e.g., Mondays and Fridays) to fully staffed days. They moved in response to technological change and innovation, and, above all, in response to workers’ organization, in the workplace itself and, especially, in unions.

Today’s young scholars might use the “frontier of control” as a framework within which they can explore the impacts of computers and robots, the strengths or weaknesses of unions, even such contemporary concerns as “the great resignation” or “Striketober.” The concept is just one great door-opener into the dynamics of the world of labor. National History Day is a wonderful opportunity to introduce students to the rich world of labor history.

The East Side Freedom Library has rich resources available to students for their research projects. Our collections include labor newspapers from the 1930s, documentary videos, recordings of labor songsters, photographs of labor-themed visual art, union buttons and posters, and more.

Perhaps even more importantly, students will also find experienced mentors eager to help them shape their project. Our team of mentors include retired public-school teachers, college professors and college students. For eight years now, we have worked with students in the Twin Cities, some of whom have won recognition in local, statewide and even national competition.

Our mentoring team is on hand, now, every Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to noon. We ask that students make an appointment by emailing info [at] eastsidefreedomlibrary [dot] org, that upon their arrival they show proof of vaccination or a negative test within the previous two days, that they wear a mask and that they observe safety precautions while here.

After their initial mentoring consultation, students will be welcome to come at other times to use our resources, and our mentors will be available for one-on-one conversations, in person or remotely.

If you or your students would like to speak with us, call us at 651-207-4926. We look forward to working with them!

– Peter Rachleff is co-executive director emeritus at the East Side Freedom Library, an independent, nonprofit organization located at 1105 Greenbrier St.


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