Young scholars ‘Taking a Stand in History’ at regional competition

National History Day group project

Taking place all day this Saturday, the UMSL-hosted event is one for the history books, so to speak. At last year’s contest, costumed classmates (from left) Grace Goeddel, Annie Higgs, Bella Hogrebe and Gillian Neal performed “Clara Barton: Encounter with Humanity” as their entry. (Images courtesy of Peter Acsay)

Eleanor Roosevelt. Mahatma Gandhi. Jackie Robinson. Nefertiti. A whole host of historical figures will make an appearance at the University of Missouri–St. Louis this weekend thanks to the efforts of local middle and high school students.

On Feb. 25, more than 300 youth will head to campus to showcase research projects ranging from exhibits and performances to documentaries and websites. It’s all part of this year’s National History Day initiative, which annually engages more than 2 million people.

UMSL’s own Peter Acsay, an associate teaching professor in the Department of History, has long served as coordinator of the initiative’s affiliated Missouri Region 5 contest, where participants compete for the chance to represent the St. Louis region at the state level in April.

Acsay’s been involved with the effort for so many years now that he’s seen former middle school participants go on to graduate from UMSL and other colleges, finding personal and professional success in history and related fields.

UMSL faculty member Peter Acsay

Associate Teaching Professor Peter Acsay is the longtime coordinator of the National History Day Missouri Region 5 competition.

“For a historian, nothing is more satisfying than being a part of, and helping to create, a tradition,” he said. “And every year students who participated have returned to work as volunteers or serve as judges.”

A crew of over 60 volunteer judges – drawn from university faculty, librarians, archivists, graduate students and dedicated history lovers – will interview the students and select the entries that will advance to the state finals.

This year’s theme is “Taking a Stand in History,” and the students have been really inspired by that focus.

“In selecting their topics and preparing their entries, they confronted what it means to take a stand, the many ways that one takes a stand and what the price to be paid or the cost is,” said Acsay, who also serves as the Advanced Credit Program liaison for UMSL’s history department. “Not every stand is immediately successful, and many individuals and groups throughout history faced years of frustration and defeat before success was realized.”

Drawn to icons, movements and events ranging from the ancient and distant, such as Confucius, to the recent and local, such as Pat Tillman and Ferguson, each participant has been working on their entry for many months. And they really run the gamut.

One exhibit will highlight Virginia Minor, a local suffragist. There will be a performance about the liberation of a concentration camp, and another student will show a documentary on Chief Osceola.

Still other entries focus on topics including the life of Helen Keller and the events at Kent State University in May 1970.

Taking a Stand in History logoFree and open to the public, this weekend’s competition never fails to inspire Acsay and everyone who takes part, he said.

“No one who has been involved in this program over the years would decry the state of American education,” he said. “I believe in the importance of history education, and I firmly believe that the National History Day program is a most effective way to introduce the essence of history, research and presentation to middle and high school students.”

Following the state contest this spring, a few finalists will advance to the national finals, held in Maryland this summer. The State Historical Society of Missouri and the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center will also each award a special prize at the regional contest.

Students will begin setting up at UMSL at 8 a.m. Saturday, with the activities and displays focused in Clark and Lucas halls on North Campus. Exhibit judging in the Millennium Student Center, from 9:30 to 11:30 and 12:30 to 1:30, is the only portion closed to the public. An awards ceremony will conclude the day at 2:30 p.m. in Lucas 200.

For more information about National History Day and UMSL’s role in the annual effort, contact Acsay at 314-516-5700 or


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