Student headed to national history competition

MARIETTA – As the names of students who’d earned honorable mention or been selected as alternates to the National History Day competition were read in late April at The Ohio State University, Marietta Middle School eighth-grader Nora Torbett resigned herself to going home empty-handed.

“I was sort of like, ‘Well, I didn’t get any … recognition,'” she said.

Then the names of the two students from her division chosen to advance to the national competition this month at the University of Maryland were announced – and hers was the first.

“I didn’t really see it coming,” Torbett said.

Pam Hart, the social studies teacher who accompanied her to the event in Columbus, was very excited, but Torbett tried to follow the lead of other students she’d seen on stage.

“Most of the people that went up there, they were pretty calm, so I was just, like, trying to stay calm,” she said.

Torbett isn’t the first Marietta Middle Schooler to reach the state competition; her older brother, Thomas, is among those who have accomplished that feat. But she’s the first to move on to the national competition.

And she didn’t even have to give it a shot. Hart said recent curriculum changes meant a National History Day project is no longer required of students.

“It’s a huge time commitment, even if you’re just going to do an (tri-fold display) exhibit,” she said.

Torbett decided to enter the documentary portion of the junior division, using her computer to create a 10-minute film on the Stono slave rebellion that took place in 1739 in South Carolina. All of the 10-20 slaves who escaped were eventually recaptured, but her thesis was that if the uprising had taken place three dozen years later, during the American Revolution, it might have been more successful and changed history for the South and African Americans.

“The Stono Rebellion is just a small rebellion, but it ended up leading to a lot of things with slavery in the South because they passed slave acts probably because of it,” she said.

Torbett’s research included letters written about the events that were collected in a book, as well as secondary sources dealing with the history of slavery in the country. Starting in December, she was spending a couple hours a week on the project. That grew to multiple hours a day as she put together the documentary and the regional competition in March approached.

Between the regional and state events, Torbett worked on improving her documentary. Since then, she’s been shoring up the citations on her bibliography to make sure everything is in order for the national competition.

Even though participation in the competition wasn’t required, Torbett wanted to do it.

“I just like history, so I thought it would be a good way to learn more about history,” she said.

Her mother, Jill, and father, David, a professor of history at Marietta College, supported her decision.

“I don’t think there was any way to stop her” after her brother did it, Jill Torbett said.

Torbett started out with a different topic in mind, but it didn’t interest her as much as she thought it would initially. Having already completed a mid-term project on the Stono Rebellion, she opted to expand on that topic for National History Day instead.

Torbett will be among more than 2,800 students from all 50 states and multiple U.S. territories, as well as China, South Korea and Indonesia participating in this year’s competition. She said she’s a little nervous but she’s also not putting too much pressure on herself.

“I just want to have a good time and meet different people who have … the same interests as me,” she said.

Multiple family members will be making the trip with her, along with her social studies teacher Judi Perrine. The competition is scheduled for June 9-13, and the awards ceremony will be streamed live on June 13 at