How? Why? Forming Research Questions & NOT Retelling History.

Rubber has met road as we begin to research our History Fair topics.  Students have spent the better part of a month learning about Chicago, exploring interests, brainstorming what they like and are curious in, and learning about the actual Fair. Now we change gears a bit. Our American History Projects were very good. So many very cool projects that were a result of student ingenuity and some divergent thinking. However, many were simply a retelling of history. Students should now learn to analyze, to make an argument based on what they learned.

Many students have a great topic (say, Wrigley Field). Before going any further, let’s answer 5 questions:

  1. Can you take a position based on a historical argument, or this a retelling of history?
  2. Does this relate to IL or Chicago history?
  3. Did this create any kind of a reaction, a revolution, or a reform?
  4. Is this important?
  5. Can I find information on this topic?

The answer to every question needs to be YES! If not, you don’t have the makings of a great History Fair project.

In itself, no, Wrigley Field is not important. However, let’s reshape that topic into a question: “What is the most important historical building in Chicago?” Can you make an argument that Wrigley is the most important historical building? Sure! Could you make an argument for the Santa Fe Building? SEARS Tower? Chicago Board of Trade? The Water Tower? The Monadock Building? Yes for all of them, which is what makes this a great History Fair project – you’ve shaped a Research Question that will force you to find an answer.

Lastly – could you argue that Wrigley Field has created a Revolution, Reaction, or Reform? I’m not sold on that one… you could make some arguments for the development of Wrigleyville, re entrification, inspiring the building of urban ballparks and stadiums in the last 20 years.

The History Fair isn’t just a retelling of facts – it’s telling HOW and WHY something happened – THAT’S what makes History come alive! Retelling is boring. In fact, that’s why so many of us hated history classes – professors and teachers simply retold history. Instead, studying why something happened, how people overcame difficulty, and why people took action, these stories give history life, and should be the entire basis of this project.

Topic Selections are due on Friday, 1/13.