For 2017, the National History Day contest is centered on the theme “Taking a Stand in History”: The past is full of examples of people who were recognized as great leaders for what they did to defend their beliefs, inspire others, and ultimately change history. This theme asks students to dig deeper and to examine what motivated these figures, and what were the related challenges and complexities.
The NHD theme book has many great sample topics that highlight the fact that taking a stand can involve a range of methods and issues—from the activities of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, to the establishment of international war crimes tribunals, to initiatives promoting women’s employment in Afghanistan. USIP encourages students to add a peacebuilding lens to their projects by focusing on individuals or organizations who asserted or defended their beliefs through nonviolent action.
Consider Spark Matsunaga: While many Americans may be remembered and honored for their valor in combat, fewer are remembered for what they have done for peace, and Spark M. Matsunaga (1916–90) is actually remembered for both. A decorated combat veteran of the U.S. Army's all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, Matsunaga was a lifelong peacemaker as well as a soldier. Matsunaga served the people of Hawaii as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1963 to 1977 and as a U.S. senator from 1977 until his death in 1990. Believing from his youth that peacemaking is as much an art as making war, and that it can be learned, he introduced legislation calling for the establishment of a "national academy of peace." In 1979, Matsunaga was named chair of the Commission on Proposals for the National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution. The U.S. Institute Peace Act of 1984 was based upon the commission's findings and recommendations.
Consider Jeannette Rankin: Best known for being the first woman elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin was involved in teaching and social work before becoming active in the women's suffrage movement. In 1916, she was elected to the House of Representatives from Montana and thus became the first woman in Congress--four years before the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution extended voting rights to all women. A lifelong pacifist, Rankin joined fifty-five other members of the House in voting against the declaration of war in 1917, saying, "I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war." As a member of Congress, Rankin worked for social, labor, and public health reform and supported women's rights. She continued to support those issues during the interwar period and also was active in anti-war organizations, including the Women's Peace Union and the National Council for the Prevention of War. True to her pacifist beliefs, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war against Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, later writing that when she cast the vote, she was fulfilling "the pledges I had made to the mothers and fathers of Montana" during her 1940 re-election campaign. She did not run again for re-election.
Find other examples through research on the USIP website and other sources!