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Barriers being broken

Learn about some possible topics for 2019-2020 National History Day projects focusing on this year’s theme: Breaking Barriers.

Student working at a wooden table with a braille writer and an open braille book.

We love getting questions from students participating in National History Day! National History Day (NHD) is a “nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for teachers and students to engage in historical research.”

The mission of NDH is “to improve the teaching and learning of history in middle and high school.” Students select topics that interest them and spend the year completing their research projects. Through the process, students not only learn about their topic, but also how to complete research using archives and other historical resources. Every year, the organization selects a theme to focus the research topics. This year’s National History Day theme is “Breaking Barriers” and we’ve certainly got some collections that explore barriers being broken.

Here are just a few ideas we came up with:

Laura Bridgman’s education:

Before Helen Keller, there was Laura Bridgman. Bridgman was the first person with deafblindness to be formally educated in the United States. Perkins’ founding director, Samuel Gridley Howe, worked one-on-one with Bridgman to teach her to communicate. We have information and records about how Dr. Howe taught Bridgman and her time at Perkins.

Helen Keller at Radcliffe College:

Helen Keller was the first person with deafblindness to earn a college degree. With the help and support of Anne Sullivan, Keller completed her coursework and passed her examinations. But it wasn’t easy! Most of her professors and instructors were baffled by how to interact with Keller and some doubted her ability.

The Perkins Brailler:

The Perkins Brailler was revolutionary and unique. In 1931, Perkins director Gabriel Farrell asked David Abraham to design a new brailler that would not have the problems the older existing models had. Mr. Abraham finished his design in 1941, but production was delayed as factories were dedicated to defense efforts during World War II. After the war, manufacturing the brailler was still slow because of limited supplies and Mr. Abraham’s commitment to make the product perfect. The new Perkins Brailler was finally ready in 1951 and they couldn’t make them fast enough! The Perkins Brailler has been updated over the years and is still used by thousands of people around the world.

Anne Sullivan’s teaching methods:

When Anne Sullivan learned she would be traveling to Tuscumbia, Alabama to work with a young girl who was deafblind, she studied Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe’s methods and notes from his work with Laura Bridgman. Throughout her time with Helen Keller, Sullivan noted her own strategies and techniques. Perhaps their most famous barrier was broken when Keller recognized “water” at the water pump.

You can check out our collections yourself on our Archives website, including some that are digitized. You may also find some inspiration in our digital collections.

Slater, who is deafblind, types an email to her Aunt Lori. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

ECC at Perkins: Communicating the importance of compensatory access

Perkins student Bronwen practices white cane technique as her orientation and mobility instructor observes.

Expanded Core Curriculum: Orientation & mobility in every step

A group of people sit at a table listening to someone speak.

Broadening perspectives among eye care professionals