Growing through Ohio History Day

By: Anna Kunkel, sophomore at The Seven Hills School

When my sixth-grade teacher assigned us an Ohio History Day project, I had no idea the experience would have such a personal impact and end up defining my high school career. Ohio History Day challenged us to select a historical topic and create a narrative guided by the theme, which, in 2019, was “Triumph and Tragedy in History.”

Through our research to find a topic, my partner and I discovered Kosovo, a small Balkan country ravaged by political corruption and ethnic conflict. Horrified by what we learned but inspired by the stories of its people, we decided to make a documentary about the Kosovo War in the 1990s. In line with many other History Day projects, we wanted to interview a first-hand witness and found Vlora Çitaku. Ms. Çitaku, the standing Ambassador to the Kosovo Embassy in the United States and signee of Kosovo’s 2008 Declaration of Independence, agreed to be interviewed. During our conversation, she spoke of being separated from her parents, the atrocities of war and life as a refugee. She discussed how emotional it was to return to her country to sign Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence and how powerful it was to watch far-off nations uniting to support her country. Her hope and ability to find the positive amidst tragedy was a powerful lesson in human resilience.

Ambassador Çitaku’s incredible story was an inspiration. Now, as a high school sophomore, I volunteer every day after school at Heartfelt Tidbits, an immigrant and refugee support organization. My work has connected me with people living in our community I may never have known and has opened my eyes to the diversity of the American immigrant experience.

When I saw this year’s Ohio History Day theme, “Frontiers in History,” I immediately thought of the Immigration Act of 1965, which transformed the American immigration system and the trajectory of U.S. immigration policy. Inspired by my previous History Day experience and volunteering for Heartfelt Tidbits, I decided to create a documentary on the Act for this year’s competition. As I had done in sixth grade, I delved deep into research, utilizing databases from the public library and reaching out to experts for interviews.

Understanding the history of immigration legislation helped me appreciate the evolution of the immigrant experience and their entry into America. Immigration is a complicated, multi-faceted issue – exploring its history has encouraged me to appreciate the complexities and diversity of what it means to be an American and the far-reaching impact of national legislation.

Ohio History also introduced me to documentary filmmaking. I have fallen in love with weaving together the stories of people’s lives and the realities of the world we live in today. For my next project, I will be documenting the unique experiences of Afghan women fleeing Afghanistan and building a new life in America.

Looking back, I realize Ohio History Day inspired me, opened me up to opportunities and challenged me in ways I never would have thought possible. The experience has been transformative and has illuminated passions I likely would never have discovered otherwise. Thank you, Ohio History Day!

Ohio History Days asks students to be creative, collaborative and think critically about history. Cincinnati Museum Center is proud to organize and host Ohio History Day’s Region 8 competition for Adams, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, Highland and Warren counties. Students in grades 6 through 12, as well as students who homeschool, are eligible.

Anna Kunkel is a sophomore at The Seven Hills School and has participated in Ohio History Day for three years.

Posted in Ohio History Day.