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Montana History Topics NHD 2020-2021

Page history last edited by mkohl@mt.gov 1 year, 1 month ago

National History Day 2021 Theme: Communication in History: The Key to Understanding


This year’s theme focuses on communication. According to the National History Day Theme Book, the theme "asks students to consider how people exchange information and interact with each other. Students have the chance to explore how the methods and modes of communication have changed over time, and how they have shaped the present. Major inventions like the telephone, the telegraph, and the television stand out in our minds as obvious examples of how communication has changed over time. Yet, communication is more than just these inventions. It is about how words, thoughts, or ideas are exchanged throughout history."  


Almost every topic in Montana history connects to this year's theme, from treaty negotiations (which often demonstrated a lack of communication) to homesteading with its abundance of pamphlets, maps and other literature designed to attract new settlers to the state. Students may wish to focus on imagery (from the Great Northern Railway's See America First campaign to the World War I and World War II propaganda posters).  They may choose to focus on activism, for example, the ways in which proponents of women's suffrage tried to persuade voters. Other good topics might include the Anaconda Copper Company's control over the state's major newspapers, and how the Company used those newspapers to influence political opinion (for example, to defeat Governor Dixon in 1924 after Dixon championed a tax on Company profits.) Alternately, students might want to look at the history of the People's Voice, a newspaper started by a coalition of farm and labor groups to counteract Company influence. Although politics offers a number of possibilities, more personal topics fit the theme too, for example, letters written by Montanans to communicate with their loved ones back East or overseas.  


Below are some ideas for Montana history topic themes related to the theme "Communication in History." Unlike in years past, we are not providing preliminary bibliographies, but we do have a few suggestions of where to look for resources:


 Chronicling America Project and/or the Montana Historical Society website MontanaNewspapers.orgNewspapers are a great primary source. For best results use the advance search function to limit your date range and search terms (we recommend "within 5 words" or "within 10 words" for names or other multiple word search terms.) You'll also need to think about your terms. If you search "World War I" during the 1914-1918 period, nothing will come up--because it wasn't called World War I at the time. Searching takes some skill and persistence, but there's gold in the historic newspapers. Bonus: We are offering a $500 prize for the project that makes best use of our digitized newspaper collections. Can't find the dates or places you need? The Montana Historical Society also interlibrary loans microfilm reels of its extensive newspaper collection. Find out more about the Montana Historical Society's collection of newspapers and its interlibrary loan policy here


Women's History Matters.  In 2014, on the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in Montana, the Montana Historical Society created the Women's History Matters website.  We recommend that you browse through the more than 100 essays on that page and the bibliographies that accompany them.  You will find plenty of topics relating to communication, including the stories of Hazel Hunkins: The Billings Suffragist Who Picketed the White House and Publicized the Suffrage Movement,  Minnie Two Shoes: American Indian Journalist, and Merle Egan Anderson: Montana's Hello Girl.


Montana and the Great War. For the centennial of World War I, the Montana Historical Society created the website Montana and the Great War to investigate the war’s transformative and complicated legacy in our home state. The period is full of stories of ways the state tried to control communication, from the arrest and conviction of 76 Montanans for sedition and the banning of German in schools and churches. The site includes links to both secondary and primary sources as well as Story Maps that provide a taste of the many Montana stories worth investigating.  


African Americans in Montana. Although African Americans never totaled more than one percent of the state’s population, they have been in the place that would become Montana since the earliest days of non-Indian presence and contributed greatly to Montana’s culture, economy, and religious life. They lobbied for civil rights and acceptance and built community institutions (including two short-run newspapers) that helped them communicate with and support one another. You can learn more at Montana's African American Heritage Resources


There are many other exciting topics potential topics for National History Day projects based on Montana's state or local history. Here are a few that come to mind: the American Indian Movement, the disability rights movement, the Swan River Massacre (a failure in communication), ledger art, the Metis role as cultural intermediaries (and communicators), 1972 Constitutional Convention, Hogan's (Coxey's) Army (a petition with boots on), the 1909 Missoula free speech fight, the 1855 Hellgate Treaty and other treaty negotiations, the letters of C. M. Russell, fire and forestry policy, the labor movement in Montana, , Not in Our Town, Operation SkyWatch, the Debate over Sustained Yield, winter counts, the 1896 anti-Chinese boycott in Butte, the Freeman standoff.  


Some of these suggestions are specific enough to make good topics as they are. Others are MUCH too broad for an NHD project, so you'll need to narrow your topic to make a good project. For all of them, you'll need to focus in on how these topics relate to the theme of communication.


Good luck! And remember, we are here to help!



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