Nine U.S. History Students to Attend Bisbee Tea
by Rachael Allen on Friday, May 17th, 2013
With the warm weather coming in and summer approaching, students are glad to be finishing up their history term papers and finally putting aside the long hours in the library and the many notecards.
For thirty years, selected U.S. History and U.S. in the Modern World II students have been awarded the Ethan Wyatt Bisbee Prize for Outstanding Research in United States History, a prize that culminates in a presentation and a discussion of select history term papers with the History Department and peers. While term papers can be excellent in many different ways, the Bisbee Prize highlights students whose papers have broken through common ideas about topics to discover and analyze the material in an innovative way.
Each U.S. History and U.S. in the Modern World II teacher is allowed to choose one student from each of his sections, making up a total of nine Bisbee Prize recipients. Ms. Foster says, “All teachers have different definitions of an outstanding term paper, but they all agree it must be unusual, go so far beyond the minimum that the students are working not as students but as historians finding something fresh.” As Ms. Foster notes, this achievement is particularly hard at a school like Milton where the coursework is so intense already, since honorees have to put so much extra time into their papers.
Mr. Hilgendorf observes, “Many papers might be strong in research or have a well-developed thesis, but the Bisbee Prize winners have done ‘A’ work in all three phases of the paper – development of thesis, quality of research, and beauty of writing.” This type of precision and skill has been key because, while an original idea is interesting, “a clear and compelling argument, evidence of significant original research, and a well-supported and thorough discussion of primary and secondary source material are, in my opinion, the more important ones,” says Ms. WuWong, chair of the History Department. To achieve this level of sophistication and innovation, students must dedicate much of their time to this project, whose process, award recipients and teachers agree, relies upon passion for the topic.
While a number of students had persuasive and strong term papers, the honored students demonstrated unique ideas in well-written papers, achievements rooted in passion for their topic and organization. One of the nine recipients, Helena Thatcher (II) wrote about “the undemocratic nature of the electoral college,” focusing upon the Election of 1800. Originally researching two elections, Helena had to narrow down her ideas and felt that conferencing with her teacher really helped, especially since students receive a grade for the process of writing the paper.
Another of the nine, Neil Chandra (II) felt similarly overwhelmed by the multitude of sources for his paper on Henry Kissinger’s policies and mistakes that led to a turbulent end to the Vietnam War. He suggested that future Milton historians should choose something they are passionate about and make sure to analyze from their own point of view rather than summarizing events. This passion for a topic can help fuel the drive and motivation to continue the paper, even through all the information and all the time spent.
Similarly, Nadya Yeh (II), who wrote her winning paper on how the Underground Railroad and the growth of the Abolitionist Movement affected one another, noted that the organization of the paper was crucial. “One of the biggest struggles was definitely just doing the research and finding the most useful information to put into the essay. Going in with a clear research question really helped narrow my research.”
On Tuesday, May 21st, students will attend the Bisbee Tea at Straus Library, where they will be honored for these exceptional history essays. As Neil advises, “the term paper is an experience,” so students should make the most out of it; perhaps, it is this dedication and enjoyment that led to the deserved recognition of these nine students.
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