by Rebecca Chernick on Friday, May 18th, 2012For the past 29 years, select students have gathered together to present the topics of their history term papers at the Bisbee Tea. On May 7th, this event honored the eleven recipients of the Ethan Wyatt Bisbee Prize for Outstanding Research in United States History. Recipients of the prize gathered over dessert and tea with the History Department and their peers in the History Library, where they were given the opportunity to present their research, answer questions, and participate in discussion.
“Each US history teacher…has the opportunity to select the strongest paper in his or her section(s)”, explained Mr. Hilgendorf of the history department. Mr. Gluck, a fellow department member, explained, “I looked for an original thesis—something that no one had said before, buttressed by ample evidence, with significant use of primary sources, and also well written. All in all, Julia Cowen’s (II) paper, the one I selected, met this criterion.”
Mr. Gluck shared that different teachers had slightly different criteria, but that the thesis and quality of writing were always essential. Ms. Foster stated that she looks for papers that are “unusual or unusually demanding” and use a variety of sources. “This year there were many outstanding term papers,” said Mr. Hilgendorf. “It was difficult for many of the teachers to make their final selection.”
Ms. WuWong mentioned that she had never heard of something called the “Jefferson Movement” before reading Adam Rochelle’s (II) term paper. Adam said, “I found my topic on an obscure history channel show online called ‘How the States Got Their Shapes.’”
Like Adam, the other winners were inspired by a diverse range of sources. Elly Day (I) turned to her Vietnamese heritage, and wrote about Ho Chi Minh. Osaremen Okolo (II) was influenced by her speech team piece, though she had always wanted to write about African-American women. Amanda Beaudoin (II) said that her class had been learning about the Emancipation Proclamation and was fascinated that the document did not actually free any slaves. Chimene Cooper (II) focused on civil rights and the Kennedy Era.
Nelson Barette (II) said that his topic—the U.S. intervention in the Congo in the 1960s— “kept popping up in unexpected places” such as a mysterious message in frosting on an acquaintance’s birthday cake.
Vincent Kennedy’s (I) paper about Woodstock and U.S. counterculture in the 1960’s was unique because he interviewed faculty member Mr. Menneg, who attended the Woodstock concert, as one of his sources.
Julia Cowen wrote her paper on the evolution of research and treatment for epilepsy. Julia said that she had originally planned to write about John Winthrop, but after re-thinking her topic over break, she decided to write about “something closer to home”, ultimately focusing on epilepsy because she suffered from it as a child. Julia’s work discussed the transition in knowledge about the disease spanning from colonial times to the 21st century.
Tina Cho (I) said that one obstacle she faced was having a thirty-page outline; she simply had too much data. Ali Edwards (II) agreed, “When doing research for these kinds of papers, you start out by simply gathering as much information as you can on anything seemingly relevant to your topic, and from there you pick out the most interesting ideas and facts and tie those selections all together into one big argument.” She added that the process became a bit daunting because she had collected so many details.
Ali stressed, “Pick a topic you are genuinely interested in.” She said that many students pick “easy” topics, but “if it’s a topic you like, it’s going to feel less like another major assignment and more like something you’re doing for yourself. In the end, that makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable and worthwhile.”
Adam Rochelle shared, “My advice to future term paper writers would be to stick to the guidelines” as having an extra day to edit is always comforting. He added that sticking to the recommended guidelines for teacher meetings was also important because “discussions with these people ended up being very helpful in my writing.”
Overall, the Bisbee Tea was a great showcase of writing and historical talent in the Milton community. Building on the success of the past year’s winners, the history department looks forward to the 30th anniversary of the prize for essay excellence.
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