The Importance of Studying History at All Levels: A Conversation with Labor Historian Bill Barry

May 3, 2022

With a group of peers, labor historian Bill Barry sponsors our Maryland History Day Special Prizes Awarded for Excellence in Labor History (Junior and Senior Divisions). This year, prize went to Carlo Riano, who attends Plum Point Middle School in Calvert County, for his his exhibit on Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Howard County students Milan Ta and Claire Williams, who attend Reservoir High School, received the Senior Division Award for their website on the Lawrence Mill Strikers. We spoke to Barry about the Maryland History Day’s impact.

A photo of a white balding man with white hair. He has a full beard. He is outside and wears a light yellow button down under a brown jacket.Q: What drew you to sponsor a Maryland History Day Special Prize? The one specifically in Labor History?

A: I have been a judge for History Day for many years and saw the various prizes so I decided to create one for a topic I consider essential—Labor History. With all of the controversies about teaching Critical Race Theory in classrooms, I think teaching all of us who work for a living about our history, and how we organize to make it better, is important. As a labor historian, I want to encourage young students to look at the topic, and projects over the past several years have been both numerous and extraordinary.

Q: Who are the others who co-sponsor this Prize with you?

A: One improvement I have made in the past several years is to reach out to potential donors by setting up a Facebook fundraiser for my birthday in April, so the prize became an organizing activity. I have been really pleased with the responses from friends, especially since we raised considerably more than the prize money, so the campaign becomes a financial support for Maryland Humanities at a time of COVID challenge.

Q: What is the most satisfying part of sponsoring the Special Prize in Labor History?

The most satisfy thing is both seeing the projects and being able to congratulate the students and their teachers for their efforts.

Q: What makes Maryland History Day a unique program to support?

A: We supposedly learn from the past, so emphasizing the study of history at all levels of school (and beyond) is so important—and it can be fun and exciting for both the students and their teachers. The projects presented at History Day, and the wide range of formats, is a terrific stimulus.  Sponsoring the History Day program makes Maryland Humanities an essential piece of this emphasis.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on our blog do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Maryland Humanities or our funders.