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“Triumph & Tragedy” Digital Resources for National History Day

“Triumph & Tragedy” Digital Resources for National History Day

By: Joe Phelan, Division of Education, National Endowment for the Humanities and Tess Porter, Education Support Specialist, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

If you mentor student projects, you know the challenges of helping students brainstorm exciting and relevant topics for which they will find authoritative supporting resources. To make this task easier, the Smithsonian Learning Lab and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment have teamed up to create digital collections of primary and secondary resources (objects, articles, lesson plans, and more) and analysis questions designed for success in researching National History Day topics—especially those connected to this year’s theme, Triumph & Tragedy in History.

Our digital collections provide information appropriate for both introducing a topic and for examining it deeply. These collections may spark ideas for new projects, inspire new ways of using primary and secondary resources, and provide new perspectives on familiar topics that students might not have considered before.

National History Day Collections from EDSITEment and the Smithsonian Learning Lab

For the past two years, EDSITEment and the Learning Lab have been collaborating to create collections tying EDSITEment’s award-winning library of lesson plans, documentaries, and resource databases to primary and secondary sources from the Smithsonian. Each collection contains a group of questions to guide critical analysis of artwork, photographs, objects, portraits, and documents. These questions help students use these primary resources as sources of knowledge about their topics, not merely illustrations of them.


Triumph and Tragedy: American Immigrant Experiences reveals challenges and opportunities experienced by immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through resources about the hardships that compelled people to leave their homelands, difficulties immigrants faced upon arrival, and ways they overcame obstacles to build new lives and communities in America.

Triumph and Tragedy: World War I explores the costs and consequences of America’s involvement in World War I and its complex legacies in the decades following. Students can research the Great War from multiple viewpoints, ranging from those of political leaders and soldiers to government-sponsored artists.

Triumph and Tragedy: American Industry introduces students to industrialization in the United States and explores America’s rise from colonial backwater to global power. Using resources found in this collection, students can investigate powerful plutocrats and union leaders, understand the tragedies that unfolded as a result of rapid industrialization, and recognize the triumphs of labor movements in supporting the wellbeing of workers.

Adapt, Create, and Share

With these National History Day collections, you and your students have access to a multitude of authoritative resources and thought-provoking analysis strategies. Use these National History Day collections as they are, adapt them using your own resources or ones you find on the web, or create your own from scratch— it is all up to you!

We invite you to share your students’ and your own National History Day collections with the Learning Lab community! Write to us on Twitter: @SmithsonianLab and @EDSITEment, using #NHD2019. If you publish a collection on your National History Day topic, be sure to enter #NHD in the description so others can easily find it while they search for National History Day resources.

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The full version of this article was originally published in the 2019 National History Day: Triumph and Tragedy in History theme book, page 43 available via NHD.org/themebook.


Flower of Death--The Bursting of a Heavy Shell--Not as It Looks, but as It Feels and Sounds and Smells

Image: Flower of Death--The Bursting of a Heavy Shell--Not as It Looks, but as It Feels and Sounds and Smells (detail), by Claggett Wilson
Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Alice H. Rossin.