National History Day loves the multi-word theme. This year’s is “Revolution, Reaction, Reform.” There has also been “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange,” “Rights and Responsibilities,” “Triumph and Tragedy,” and “Conflict and Compromise.” A general rule of thumb with these multi-word themes is this: if there is an “and” in the theme, you need to include all words, but if there is no “and” you can choose one or all.
For “Revolution, Reaction, Reform,” then, students only need to focus on one of the three words. But as is the case with most themes, there are often connections to all three theme words within the context, main idea and impact of any topic they choose. Here are some tips to guide students as they consider topics and clear connections to the theme.
1. Know the definitions of the words. This may seem elementary, but understanding the definitions of “revolution, reaction, reform” will help as students identify how these pieces fit into the analysis of their topic.
2. Most topics will focus on one of the three, but the project as a whole may contain elements of the other two. If a student’s topic is Jane Addams and the social reform of Hull House, “reform” is the driving force. But Hull House grew out of a reaction and was a part of a social-welfare revolution at the turn of the 20th century.
3. Don’t attempt to shoehorn all three in if they do not fit. The Haitian Revolution, starring such characters as Toussaint L’Ouverture and Napoleon Bonaparte, certainly has the revolution part, and reaction, too. Reform is not as clear, and elements like a nation’s independence cannot necessarily be neatly passed off as reform.
4. History is full of cause and effect, and the three R’s are perfect examples. Reaction to Rosa Parks’ stand on the bus led to transportation reform. The early movements of the American Revolution led to reactions from Loyalists and Patriots. Desire for reform led to the social revolutions of the 1960s.
5. Always keep the three words in mind during research. When students are researching to find evidence of one of the R’s, they should keep a wary eye on evidence of the other two. If they pigeonhole their research into one R, they might miss some compelling resources that demonstrate the other two. Research into Hubert H. Humphrey’s role into the Civil Rights revolution would certainly lead to the 1948 Democratic National Convention speech, but would students pick up on the reform of the municipal fair employment law in Minneapolis?