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Sunapee students win history prize

Union Leader Correspondent

August 03. 2016 9:38PM
Some of the members of the Advanced Placement U.S. History class at Sunapee High School class just won a national history prize. (COURTESY)

SUNAPEE — A group of 15 students in Ray Palin’s Advanced Placement U.S. History class at Sunapee High School found a new use for old newspapers last semester, and won a prize and a trip to Washington, D.C., in the process.

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced last week that Palin’s class won the K-12 student prize and a $1,000 cash class prize in the endowment’s Chronicling America Data Challenge. The contest is nationwide competition that brought entries from colleges, working professionals, and high schools across the country. Palin’s class was one of six prize winners.

The contest required entrants to use digital humanities to explore and exhibit untold stories found in the Chronicling America database, a digital repository of historic U.S. newspapers created through a partnership between the endowment and the Library of Congress. It provides free digital access to 10 million pages of historically significant newspapers published in the United States.

The contest challenged entrants to produce creative web-based projects using data pulled from the database. Palin’s students’ entry was titled, “Digital APUSH: Revealing History with Chronicling America.”

The project was aimed at discovering patterns in news coverage. They completed the project in the last month of the semester, after they had taken the class’s final exam, Palin said. They learned a lot about “data mining,” the the practice of examining large databases in order to find information.

“I learned so much about how to research with data mining, I know I will use that method a lot in the future,” said Virgile Bissonette, one of 14 juniors in the class.

They also learned a lot about the way news used to be covered in America. Looking back in the past century and beyond, they found that newspapers in the Northeast did not cover what would turn out to be historic issues, like the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.

“I can’t explain why, but none of the papers in New England or the Northeast even mentioned that ruling,” Palin said.

That kind of “temporal trends” in use of the words “secede” and “secession,” in articles about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Ku Klux Klan, also weren’t covered much in the Northeast. They also discovered geographic trends in coverage of labor unions.

“You could say that my class hacked the traditional high school research paper process,” Palin said. “But this is the kind of research that’s being done in many history departments at the university level. And I believe this exposure is important.”

In addition to the cash prize, the students received an invitation to present their work at the National Digital Newspaper Program annual meeting in September in Washington, D.C.

The Sunapee students’ project is online at

Education History Sunapee

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