Theme Information

Each year, National History Day® frames students’ research within a historical theme. The 2020-2021 theme is Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. Your topic may focus on any geographic area, historical period, event, group, or individual, but it must relate back to the annual theme. Understanding the historical significance and context of your topic will help you draw a connection to the theme. Use the resources below to learn more about this year’s theme.

2021 NHD Theme Book2020_NHD_logo_web

2021 NHD Theme Narrative

DECODE—2021 Theme Graphic Organizer

NHD Theme Page

Theme Videos – The videos below were created by National History Day in Minnesota. Each video is about 6 minutes long.

Theme Overview

Theme Reminders

2021 Michigan Topics

The following topics were submitted by museum, education, and archive staff from across Michigan after reading the 2021 theme narrative for Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. Exploring the history of your town or state can be a challenge but it helps you gain a greater connection to your community. We encourage you to explore the topics below or find a topic in your own backyard. You can find lists of Historical Organizations in each district at hsmichigan.org/mhd/district-information/. Check back often to see an updated list!

African AmericanCivil Rights | Miscellaneous | Native American | Oral History | Transportation

African American

Topic: The Green Book for African American Travelers 1936 -1964
Description: Decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, African Americans continued to suffer unequal treatment, especially in the South but also in the northern states. African Americans driving long distances had to pack food to eat during the journey, sleep in cars overnight, and even bring buckets to use for bathroom breaks. Victor Green, a mailman, began producing a guidebook known as the Green Book to help African Americans travel. Each bound booklet (like a magazine) listed cities in each state with safe locations to stop for food, lodging, fuel, and repairs.

Resources: The Gilmore Car Museum’s Research Library and Archive in  Hickory Corners (GilmoreCarMuseum.org) holds a collection of photos, books, and digital copies of most of the Green Books issued as well as several Michigan related oral histories and videos.

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Civil Rights

Topic: The Green Book for African American Travelers 1936 -1964
Description: Decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, African Americans continued to suffer unequal treatment, especially in the South but also in the northern states. African Americans driving long distances had to pack food to eat during the journey, sleep in cars overnight, and even bring buckets to use for bathroom breaks. Victor Green, a mailman, began producing a guidebook known as the Green Book to help African Americans travel. Each bound booklet (like a magazine) listed cities in each state with safe locations to stop for food, lodging, fuel, and repairs.
Resources: The Gilmore Car Museum’s Research Library and Archive in  Hickory Corners (GilmoreCarMuseum.org) holds a collection of photos, books, and digital copies of most of the Green Books issued as well as several Michigan related oral histories and videos.

Topic: Braille Writers
Description: Braille writer machines have existed in some form for over a century and, like braille itself, have been an instrumental literacy and communication tool for people who are blind. Students could look at the evolution of braille writing technology and how they have been implemented in Michigan at places like the Michigan School for the Blind.
Resources: The Michigan History Center has several braille writers in its museum collection. The Historical Society of Greater Lansing would be a good place to start for research specific to the Michigan School for the Blind.

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Miscellaneous

Topic: Prison Postcards
Description: Prisons built in Michigan in the 19th and early 20th centuries were constructed to reflect the latest trends in architecture, with functionality that corresponded to society’s attitudes towards criminal justice. What exactly was it that these architecture and décor styles were trying to communicate? By looking at postcards featuring these buildings (yes, people would send tourism-style postcards featuring prisons they had visited!), we can start to decode what the prisons were trying to communicate about the type of places they were and what went on in them. Did the ideas they were trying to communicate match the reality experienced by those imprisoned there?
Resources: The Archives of Michigan holds a sizeable collection on postcards from prisons across the state, as well as a variety of other prison records and private manuscript collections. Although the Cell Block 7 museum in Jackson is permanently closed, it may be worth it to reach out to the Ella Sharp Museum (the parent organization for Cell Block 7) to see what resources or staff expertise they still have available.

Topic: Michigan’s Earliest Newspapers
Description: Sandor Farkas, a Hungarian traveler who published his views about the United States in 1831 noted that: “the magic at work in America is the printing of newspapers. … No matter how remote from civilization or poor the settler may be, he reads the newspaper.” In fact, Michigan’s very first newspaper was published in 1809 – nearly 30 years before statehood was achieved. Why were newspapers so abundant during this period? Why was it important for each community to have its own paper? How were these publications used to communicate and enable development throughout the region? There are a lot of directions you could go and questions you could attempt to address with this topic!
Resources: Michigan’s first newspaper can be found at the Archives of Michigan (see Michigan Radio episode on this topic). CMU’s Clarke Historical Library has an online exhibit and excellent resources on the history of Michigan newspapers.

Topic: Braille Writers
Description: Braille writer machines have existed in some form for over a century and, like braille itself, have been an instrumental literacy and communication tool for people who are blind. Students could look at the evolution of braille writing technology and how they have been implemented in Michigan at places like the Michigan School for the Blind.
Resources: The Michigan History Center has several braille writers in its museum collection. The Historical Society of Greater Lansing would be a good place to start for research specific to the Michigan School for the Blind.

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Native American

Topic: Nineteenth Century Indigenous Resistance to Settler Colonialism in the Great Lakes
Description: The Birch Bark Booklets of Simon Pokagon (particularly The Red Man’s Rebuke–a scathing response to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair).
Resources: Douglas Collection at the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Department of Language and Culture. Contact: Marcus Winchester, Language & Culture offices
59291 Indian Lake Road
Dowagiac, MI 49047
(269) 462-4325, Marcus.Winchester@pokagonband-nsn.gov

Topic: Sanilac Petroglyphs
Description: Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park protects and interprets Michigan’s largest known collection of early Native American teachings carved in stone. The carvings are called Ezhibiigaadek Asin, “written on stone,” in the Anishinaabemowin language. Petroglyphs are often left to communicate something to future generations – but what are they communicating? And to whom? How does their material and location impact their ability to communicate?
Resources: The Michigan History Center co-manages the Sanilac Petroglyphs site with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe – either organization would be a good place to reach out to as a starting point (Michigan History Center contact would be Suzanne Fischer). Additional resources include the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinaabe Culture and Lifeways, and the archaeology team at the State Historic Preservation Office.

Topic: Treaties
Description: Between 1795 and 1864, many treaties were signed between Euro-Americans and Indigenous peoples. During this period, letters were sent back and forth between the government and the tribes involved. What ideas were being communicated through these letters? What do the words chosen by the translators indicate about attitudes towards one another? Where there any shortcomings in the communication between Euro-Americans and Indigenous people? If so, what was the impact of these shortcomings? There are a lot of directions you could go with this topic!
Resources: The Archives of Michigan has at least one such letter between government and the tribes. Additional resources may be found through the National Archives, CMU’s Clarke Historical Library and Tribal Archives (like the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Department of Repatriation, Archives and Records).

Topic: Loss of indigenous languages because of U.S. Government policies
Description: Beginning in the 1880s, Native children were forced into boarding schools by the U.S. government. Boarding schools were created to assimilate Native Americans, and many were governed by the philosophy stated by Richard Henry Pratt, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Pratt was the founder and superintendent of the first Federal Indian boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Native children could not speak their Native languages or practice their traditions, lifeways, and spirituality. Michigan had three boarding schools, one federally mandated, and two were operated by religious institutions. The last boarding school for Native youth in Michigan was in operation until 1983 (Holy Childhood, Harbor Springs).
Resources: Baraga County MI Genealogy on the Web, www.migenweb.org/baraga/history/1883historyupperpenin_2.html.

Source: History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: containing a full account of its early settlement, its growth, development, and resources, an extended description of its iron and copper mines: also, accurate sketches of its counties, cities, towns, and villages … biographical sketches, portraits of prominent men and early settlers. Chicago, IL: Western Historical Co., 1883.

Bear, Charla. “American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many.” NPR.org, Morning Edition, 12 May 2008, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865?storyId=16516865.

“Boarding School.” Boarding School: Curriculum Guide, Resources, Teacher Worksheets/Lesson Plans, Agent of Change, Ziibiwing Center – Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, www.sagchip.org/ziibiwing/planyourvisit/boardingschool/index2.htm.

Brookings Institution. The Problem of Indian Administration: Report of a Survey made at the request of Honorable Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior, and submitted to him, February 21, 1928 (Baltimore, Md., The Johns Hopkins Press, 1928), www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED087573.pdf.

Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940. University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Edwards, Lissa. “To Educate the Indian.” MyNorth.com, 29 Mar. 2017, mynorth.com/2017/03/mt-pleasant-indian-school/.

Hemenway, Eric. “Indian Children Forced to Assimilate at White Boarding Schools (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/articles/boarding-schools.htm.

KUED PBS – University of Utah. “Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 16 Feb. 2016, www.pbs.org/video/unspoken-americas-native-american-boarding-schools-oobt1r/.

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians—Repatriation, Archives, and Records Department (231) 242-1450, photos of items from the Holy Childhood School available, www.ltbbodawa-nsn.gov/Arch/Archives.html.

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Oral History

Topic: Using Oral History for your MHD Project
Description: Most Michigan History Day projects will be enhanced by interviewing an expert in the field or someone who experienced the event. Learn to ask questions and interact with community members.
Resources: Senior citizens, librarians, archivist, museum workers, and even parents may know some interesting details about your topic. Visit michiganoha.org/ to learn more.

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Transportation

Automotive

Topic: The Green Book for African American Travelers 1936 -1964
Description: Decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, African Americans continued to suffer unequal treatment, especially in the South but also in the northern states. African Americans driving long distances had to pack food to eat during the journey, sleep in cars overnight, and even bring buckets to use for bathroom breaks. Victor Green, a mailman, began producing a guidebook known as the Green Book to help African Americans travel. Each bound booklet (like a magazine) listed cities in each state with safe locations to stop for food, lodging, fuel, and repairs.
Resources: The Gilmore Car Museum’s Research Library and Archive in  Hickory Corners (GilmoreCarMuseum.org) holds a collection of photos, books, and digital copies of most of the Green Books issued as well as several Michigan related oral histories and videos.

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Thank you to the following contributors!
Jim Cameron, Michigan Oral History Association
Jay Follis, Gilmore Car Museum
Rachel Clark, Michigan History Center
Sara Gross, Michigan History Center
Amanda Weinert, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

 

 

Historical Society of Michigan 7435 Westshire Dr., Lansing MI 48917
Email hsm@hsmichigan.org | Phone (517) 324-1828 | Fax (517) 324-4370

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