Feature story: Sibling perspectives on what it means to compete in Alabama History Day, the competition that engages students in robust and creative historical research.Read more from this issue of Mosaic
This article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of Mosaic, the magazine of the Alabama Humanities Alliance.
Sisters Starlyn and Savi Fistein have each discovered a passion for both performance and historical research. Their combined interests have found a single, creative outlet through Alabama History Day — the state affiliate contest of National History Day, a history competition that engages students (grades 6–12) in robust historical research.
Starlyn, a rising junior who is a drama student at Baker High School in Mobile, has thrice made it to the National History Day competition in Washington, D.C., including a national award for her dramatic presentation on Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis and Alabama’s Africatown community. She returned to the national competition this year thanks to her latest first-place honors at Alabama History Day, a performance as Sophie Scholl, a student in Nazi Germany who helped lead an underground resistance in her home country.
Savi, a 2021 graduate of Mobile’s Phillips Preparatory Middle School, has twice partnered with classmate Aiden Seabrook to win Alabama History Day contests. Together, they earned the Outstanding Alabama Junior Entry at the 2020 National History Day competition. Savi, a dancer herself, used their project to highlight Raven Wilkinson, a barrier-breaking Black ballerina.
Below, the Fistein sisters and Seabrook discuss what Alabama History Day means to them.
What do you remember most about your first time competing?
Starlyn: I remember the reaction of a college student who saw my project. I was in the 6th grade competing with an exhibit on Mental Health Awareness and Taking a Stand to End the Stigma (surrounding mental health throughout history) when a student approached me excitedly and asked if she could take some photos of my board. She wasn’t a judge. She was a volunteer for the competition that day who was majoring in psychology. She told me my message was inspiring and she had thought about volunteering at the National Alliance on Mental Illness recently; my project had convinced her. I did not place that year, but to me I’d already secured a win. That encounter left me knowing I had done something important. It opened my eyes to the visible impact history has on my community and encouraged my continued participation in this wonderful program.
How has competing in Alabama History Day made you think differently about your connection to history and to your community?
Seabrook: It’s given me a new perspective of current events around me. I’ve been able to dive deep into world-changing moments throughout our history and I attribute this to my studying history to such a large degree. I believe this has given me the ability to recognize history in the making, when it is happening in the world, and in the community, I live in.
What is your definition of the “humanities”?
Savi: I think of the humanities as the study of different aspects of the past, the present, and the future. It focuses on the study of human culture and societies from the ancient times to the present and how that will affect our future. It includes the study of history, language, literature, archaeology, human geography, and so much more.
How have your interests changed since competing in Alabama History Day?
Starlyn: Alabama History Day has given me the opportunity to combine two of my passions — history and theater. I first chose to compete in the performance category in 8th grade with a project on the life of Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, recorded in Zora Neale Hurston’s book, Barracoon. (I strongly recommend this read.) Producing an original script based on real human emotion and historical perspective was an incredible opportunity, and I fell in love with the method of sharing history. Bringing history to life by performing someone else’s story allows me to experience a part of that individual’s struggle and courage. Like with my project this year on Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, I get to help continue the legacy of an important historical figure whose bravery and sacrifices should never be forgotten.
Why would you recommend other students participate in Alabama History Day
Savi: History Day has affected my perception of the world and its past events. I would recommend other students participate in Alabama History Day because of the way it lets you draw your own conclusions and opinions. It is truly intriguing to see other competitors’ views and what platform they chose to express them. Yes, History Day is a gain intellectually, but the experience and connection you get to make to the history all around us is the truly amazing benefit.
Date: April 8, 2022
Location: Auburn University at Montgomery
Alabama History Day is the state contest of National History Day, a competition that engages students (grades 6-12) in robust and creative historical research. Students may work individually or in groups of up to five. In the process, students transform into writers, filmmakers, designers, playwrights, and artists as they create unique contemporary expressions of history. Winning competitors are eligible to move on to the National History Day competition held in Washington, D. C., each June.Learn more