With their website project Walt Disney: Turning Point in the Amusement Industry, Carmel freshmen Alexandra Isler and Juliane Tyte earned first place in May’s State-level History Day competition. Because their website earned a spot in June’s Kenneth E. Behring National Contest at the University of Maryland, their research and history skills are still available for online viewing.
More than half a million U.S. students participate in National History Day. Teachers encourage students to find a historical topic that both interests them and relates to the contest theme. The 2013 contest theme was Turning Points.
The event website explains the contest aims “to provide an opportunity for students to push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates and drill down into historical content to develop perspective and understanding.”
As high school newcomers in an Honors English/Advanced Placement World History class, Isler and Tyte started separate projects studying different aspects of Walt Disney.
“We had both been inspired by Disney as children,” Isler said.
While Isler’s project focused on the evolution of animation with Steamboat Willie, Tyte’s project spotlighted the Disney Empire. By February, they decided to combine their efforts.
“We merged our ideas into (Disneyland’s) evolution of the amusement industry,” Isler said.
Their research included combing through Carmel High School and public library databases, online sources and interviewing figures such as Richard Munch, National Roller Coaster Museum historian.
They developed an original website to present their research and analysis. Isler worked on design and background coding while Tyte located photos, videos and works citation. Each researched and wrote content, meeting three times a week to merge their ideas.
Professional historians and educators reviewed their work and interviewed the students.
“We presented our project with a laptop connected to a projector in a room specifically designated for the interviews,” Tyte said. “No one else besides the judges actually saw the website during competitions before it was easily accessible during Nationals.”
“When we realized we had won (State), it was astounding,” Isler said. “It was also humbling realizing our project was worthy of going to Nationals.”
Tyte agreed projects at Nationals were competitive because “the aesthetics, arguments, and research in the projects were stunning.”
After researching Disney, Tyte “was surprised to learn that Walt Disney’s dream for Disneyland basically failed during the first week of its opening.” She explained Disney’s diligence in “revising the park’s infrastructure and organization” was a turning point for the park.
Isler concluded Disney “wasn’t attempting to create the American Dream but, rather, make his own reality.” She discussed Disney’s bleak childhood and his desire to create a sanctuary for a generation whose childhood’s had been overshadowed by the Great Depression and World War II.
“I realized that greed was never the reason Walt Disney began (Disneyland),” Isler said. “He just wanted to make his dream come true.”
“He revolutionized the amusement park industry as it was dying,” she explained. “And, at least for me, his parks represent that anything is possible with a little pixie dust and people who do things for more than just money.”
“Alex and I are planning to team up again for National History Day this (sophomore) year, hopefully with one or two more people,” Tyte said.
Isler and Tyte’s website is hosted through the National History Day organization and can be viewed at http://30735798.nhd.weebly.com/.