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Ahistorical National History Day

There’s been a movement among a certain sort of historian over the last generation or so to de-emphasize the learning of the dates of historical events in favor of understanding broad historical events. This movement has gone a bit far, in the establishment of National History Day.

What’s that? You’ve never celebrated National History Day? Well, neither have I. When I found a page dedicated to National History day at ourdocuments.gov, I wanted to know more. I like finding out about history, after all. But, as much as I searched, I couldn’t find any information about just when National History Day is being held at that particular web site.

I decided I’d go right to the source, like most good historians do. So, I found the official web site for National History Day. I assumed that I’d find information on the date of National History Day right there on the front page. No such luck.

I went to the “about” page on the site, and still there was nothing telling me when National History Day is. Then I clicked on a link asking the same question I’d been wondering about: “When is National History Day?”. I found the following information:

When is National History Day? Every day is National History Day! We are teaching students that history is not just about the names and dates of people and events from 200 years ago but about the stories that happen every day in communities around the world. National History Day’s year-round programs culminate in a national contest every June.

That’s why we say “National History Day is not just a day, it’s an experience!”

Oh, bother. National History Day is not every day, just like not every day is Earth Day, just like the Civil War did not take place in every place where hatred divided neighbor from neighbor.

A clue to the people at National History Day: If you want people to learn history, first you need to make clear the distinction between the basic units of time. A day is not year or a decade, or century. A date is at a particular time in relation to other dates. It isn’t just any time, or all times.

And no, for those of you who are wondering, that National History Day contest doesn’t establish a National History Day either. It’s held from June 14-18, making it a 120 hour-long day.

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