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Three Questions for Gary Pettit

"World War I was a major turning point in human history."

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

Around the country, more than half a million middle and high school students have been competing in National History Day (NHD) contests. Students conduct rigorous historical research focused around the 2017 theme, "Taking a Stand in History", and they created projects in one of five categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website. After competing at local and regional contests, the top projects in each category next advanced to one of 58 affiliate contests held regionally. Finally, the top two projects in each category were invited to the National History Day Contest held this week, June 11-15, 2017 at the University of Maryland in College Park. This year's National History Day Contest was special for the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, as we were able to sponsor a special prize for student projects on the theme of World War I. We spoke to Gary Pettit, the NHD Director of Communications, about this year's projects, and about the importance of World War I to the students.

National History Day has added a special theme for WWI this year. Tell us about what special steps you have taken.

Gary PettitGary PettitWe are thrilled to add a World War I special prize to our list of awards presented at the National Contest. Special prizes are an excellent way for organizations and individuals to reward exceptional projects that explore specific areas of history.

The World War I prize is awarded to an outstanding entry in both the junior and senior divisions that documents and analyzes a significant aspect of World War I, clearly demonstrating historical relevance to the theme of World War I.

We announced this new prize this year and have promoted it on our website, social media, and in our monthly newsletter to more than 10,000 recipients.

How has the response been among the student historians participating in NHD? What have they brought forward?

More than a dozen students have applied to win the World War I special prize. Their projects cover a range of topics related to World War I from Jeanette Rankin and President Woodrow Wilson to artists and poets including Siegfried Sassoon.

Why is it important for your students to learn about WWI?

World War I was a major turning point in human history. Until this point, war was typically confined to a few nations and combat was generally man to man. The Industrial Revolution helped to mechanize everything, including war. World War I saw the spread of war on an industrial scale. Entire continents were engulfed in fighting and the scientific gains made in the industrial revolution were put to tragic use with the invention of weapons such as mustard gas. World War I was a significant turning point in history, the study of which should be a key component of any course on Western social history.

The war also remapped the world, particularly Europe and its consequences set the stage for World War II.

contest seasonStudents participate in National History Day activities across the country.

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