The melding of history and technology, the cutting edge of how today's students learn and process material, was impressively displayed Saturday at the Sacramento County History Day at Rosemont High School.
Twenty four years ago, when the competition for middle and high school students first was held, the Internet didn't exist as a medium to present information. And, if students wanted to film a documentary, they actually had to film it, nondigitally, and edit without the convenience of a computer program.
Saturday, though, website projects and documentaries streaming from laptops dominated the competition, which drew 300 participants throughout the county, all vying to qualify for the state contest April 28 in San Jose. (Local winners will be announced today.)
Yet, amid all the whiz-bang, high-tech presentations, a few students decided to go old-school and actually put on a live performance just as their parents might have done back in the day.
It was the smallest category in the contest, by far, but students who staged re-enactments of historical events based on this year's theme of "debate and diplomacy in history" were real troupers in both senses of the word.
Maybe taking to the stage with cobbled-together sets and handmade costumes wasn't perceived as cool as going all "interactive" with a multi-platform website or special-effects laden documentary. But, as Alejandra Rodriguez, a member of Sam Brannan Middle School's team that dramatized the Salem witch trials, noted: "We had a lot more fun."
Indeed, Rodriguez immersed herself in the role of Abigail Williams, the hysterical woman who accused Salem resident John Proctor of witchcraft in 1692. She ranted and raved, flung herself on the floor and writhed. She called for Proctor's hanging.
She, in short, brought history to life better than even the most vivid 3D, HD video ever could.
"Doing our presentation this way is better because you're actually seeing and hearing it," Rodriguez said. "That's better than just, you know, looking at a screen or a poster presentation."
Then she paused and added, sheepishly, "Also, there's not as much competition in this category."
Just because competition wasn't as fierce in the performance category didn't mean less research for the students.
The team from Vista del Lago High School in Folsom, which chose to re-create the landmark 1978 Supreme Court decision in the Bakke case (curtailing affirmative action in college admissions), spent time poring over papers at the University of California, Davis, one of the principals in the case.
They also interviewed a historian who wrote about the decision. They even tried, to no avail, to interview Allan Bakke, the UC Davis medical student who sued to gain admission.
"We really liked this topic because most of us are seniors and are looking at colleges," said participant Kylie Ondich.