Margo Dalal, Carl Sandburg Middle School’s Historian of the Year, chose her award-winning topic because of her interest in the lost culture of another century. She tried to bring alive a form of communal entertainment that she had only read about in books: the drive-in movie theatre. “I’d never been to one,” she explained. “They were the hip things of the 1900’s.”
She said the most fascinating information she unturned in the course of her dig into the past was how theatres evolved into full-service entertainment complexes that incorporated playgrounds, laundry services and “the autoscope,” which Dalal described as a technology that gave every car its own screen. Her final project was three or four pages long and she used 15 Power Point slides to present it. “It was really long,” Dalal said.
There were three finalists for Sandburg’s history award, which was presented at a ceremony in the school library on May 18. Riley Mack researched the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. She said she had always been interested in Civil Rights and African-American history, but had only known about King in this context. Her exploration into his personal life was rewarding. She discovered he had four children and also learned about his own childhood. She said his father changed his name from Michael to Martin so that he would be named after the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther.
The third finalist, Will Neer, researched two topics, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Queen Liliuokalani and the annexation of Hawaii. He was inspired to research Cuba because of the proliferation of Che Guevara tee-shirts in the halls of Sandburg. After asking his father about the Cuban revolutionary, he decided to explore the era more thoroughly.
Like Guevara and Castro, Liliuokalani resisted America’s influence in her country. “A couple of years before the Spanish-American War, when we were really imperialist, we tried to annex [Hawaii],” Neer explained. The queen resisted this intrusion, but ultimately failed to secure her island chain’s independence. “The history books take that kind of light,” said Neer, “because we’re not very proud of that as Americans … We were really aggressive.” He said that the invasion of the royal palace by American troops was an event from the period that particularly stood out.
RETIRED teacher Guin Jones helped establish the historian of the year award in 2002. She returned to this school to speak at this year’s award ceremony. She said that she organized the award “because history matters Math and science gets big accolades on a regular basis and history students don’t. We need to encourage students to tie into their heritage.”
Jones presented the finalists with subscriptions to Smithsonian Magazine. Dalal also received a Jefferson Cup. The award was sponsored by Rubesch and Miller Silversmiths in Alexandria.
Ruth Reeder, museum educator at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum was the ceremony’s guest speaker. She said she had just come from the official opening of the new span of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. She portrayed the span of concrete and steel as a metaphor for the lives of the young historians. “That bridge is connecting people,” she said. “And I feel our nominees are faced with a similar challenge. You’re embarking on a journey – choices to make, paths to go down.” She told them that as historians they would have to sift through all the stories and all the perspectives and to choose their own explanation. She cited Mount Vernon, which sheltered George Washington and his slaves, as an example of the complexities of historical interpretation, “the glorious and the shameful happening right here where we are.”