National History Day 2024 in the Perkins Archives

Learn about some possible topics for 2023-2024 National History Day projects focusing on Turning Points in History.

Five boys sit at a wooden table each occupied in reading or writing with embossed books, braillers, slate and stylus, and an activity board.

What is National History Day?

National History Day is “an innovative curriculum framework in which students learn history by selecting topics of interest and launching into year-long research projects.” The work culminates with the NHD Contest. Each year, NHD focuses on a theme “to provide a lens through which students can examine history” and students explore it through projects, papers, or presentations.

Turning Points in History

In honor of NHD’s 50th anniversary, this year’s theme is Turning Points in History. More information about the theme is available on the 2023-2024 NHD website. The theme encourages students to “consider questions of time and place, cause and effect, change over time, and impact and significance.” They explain that a turning point in history “is more than a new idea or a particular action taken by an individual. A turning point is an idea, event, or action that directly, or sometimes indirectly, causes change.”

We wanted to take the opportunity to highlight just a few of the collections and topics in the Perkins Archives that fit the theme. 

Kindergarten for the blind

When Perkins first opened, only students that were over 9 years old were admitted. However, Perkins trustees and directors were aware of the need to educate young children who were blind. Michael Anagnos, the second director of Perkins School for the Blind and son-in-law of founding director, Samuel Gridley Howe, worked tirelessly for the establishment of a kindergarten, writing appeals and directing fundraising efforts.  

The United States’ first-ever Kindergarten for the Blind was established in Jamaica Plain, MA in 1887. The school, though separate from Perkins School for the Blind, was a success from the start. The first class consisted of only 10 pupils; by 1895, over 70 children were enrolled. As Perkins was part of the larger conversation at the time about early childhood education, the curriculum was modeled after Friedrich Froebel’s first kindergarten and included music classes and manual arts training. The kindergarten students in the photo above are learning reading or writing with embossed books, braillers, slate and stylus, and an activity board.

Our Kindergarten Correspondence collection, which includes original incoming correspondence relating to the creation and administration of the Kindergarten is available on the Internet Archive.  

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, including Annual Reports, teacher journals, and more. You can also learn more about the evolution of educating students who are deafblind.

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.

Schools for the blind in the United States

In addition to serving as the founding director of Perkins, Samuel Gridley Howe played a role in the opening of other schools for the blind in the United States. His methods and work were used as guides for other schools and teachers. You can explore pages about the historic curriculum at Perkins to learn more about how and what the students learned in the early days of the school. Please contact us for more information about resources we have related to this topic! 

Contact us

​​These are just a few of many possible topics that we would be happy to help you research. If you have other ideas, we’d love to hear from you and help if we can! You can reach the Research Librarian by sending an e-mail to [email protected].

Suggested citation

Coit, Susanna. “National History Day 2024 in the Perkins Archives.” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. August 22 , 2023

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The 1925 Solar Eclipse at Perkins

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Two tiled portraits. On the left, a photographic portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner from 1888 courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. On the right, a group photographic portrait of the young students and on the steps of the Kindergarten for the Blind, circa 1893.

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Exerpt of handwritten letter from Henry David Thoreau.

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