By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division 

WASHINGTON – Several members from the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) were selected as judges for part of the annual Kenneth E. Behring National History Day (NHD) Contest, June 14. 

Held every year since 1980, “NHD is a learning adventure that teaches critical thinking, writing and research skills and boosts performance across all subjects—not just history,” according to its website. “To facilitate this, NHD provides a framework and curriculum materials for teachers and guidance for students.” 

NHHC was asked to help judge after Kim Fortney, the deputy director of NHD, became familiar with the command and the work being done throughout the NHHC enterprise.  After Fortney gave a lecture earlier this year at National Museum of the United States Navy (NMUSN), which falls under NHHC, she offered the command the opportunity to judge at NHC this year.  She noticed, as the repository for U.S. naval history, an extraordinarily wide topic, NHHC staff has extensiveness expertise and knowledge that would add value to the NHD judging. 

“This was my first time as a National History Day judge, and I was just blown away by the students' passion, the high quality of their research and the wide variety of topics,” said Jay Thomas, NHHC's assistant director for collection management. “I think they'll benefit from this opportunity to dig into a historical problem using the best sources and methods.” 

NHD was created by David Van Tassel back in 1974 to help improve the quality of historical education in America, which he thought was steadily declining. He wanted students to engage themselves with history and not just to learn, for example, that America was founded in 1776 or that slavery was abolished in 1865—little more than dates. Why did these events happen and why in the way that they did? 

Another of NHHC’s volunteer judges, John Deluca, deputy director of NHHC’s Communications and Outreach Division, was particularly impressed. 

“Some of them had the same level of graphics that we do [at the NMUSN],” he said. “It was beautiful. From the colors, to the font choice—it stopped me in my tracks. […] Van Tassel’s vision is alive and vibrant in these students. I felt the folks I judged experienced a lot of what he was trying to achieve.” 

Each year NHD focuses its contestants around a theme or broad idea. They have ranged variously from potentially narrow topics like ‘Liberty: Rights and Responsibilities’ to the more obviously broad ‘Migration’. The theme for this year was ‘Exploration, Encounter, Exchange’. 

“The intentional selection of the theme for NHD is to provide an opportunity for students to push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates and drill down into historical content to develop perspective and understanding,” NHD’s website explains. 

The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus. 

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