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Minnechaug senior to present history project at national competition

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM On Jan. 9, Minnechaug Regional High School senior Evan Weinberg won first place for his individual History Day documentary "Star Wars: The Strategic Defense Initiative." He, along with the top two group documentaries, moved onto the state competition on April 5 at Clark University in Worcester.

At the state level, Weinberg was awarded second place for his project and will now be moving on to the National History Day Competition at the University of Maryland from June 15 to 19.

National History Day is an educational program devoted to improving the teaching and learning of history in American schools. The day is a meaningful way for students to study historical issues, ideas, people and events by engaging in historical research, according to, the event's Web site.

The theme for National History Day 2008 was "Conflict and Compromise in History."

"I always had a particular interest in technology, math and science," Weinberg explained. "I chose a topic to suit my personality."

The Strategic Defense Initiative, according to the literature that accompanied Weinberg's project, was a plan proposed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 during his Address to the Nation on National Security. It began as a research plan for futuristic defense technologies against strategic defensive missiles. With the Soviet Union violating the ABM Treaty of 1972 by building a nationwide radar system, Reagan saw the need for a concrete defense system.

Both U.S. politicians and Soviet leaders attacked the defense initiative for being unrealistic. Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1987 where Gorbachev began making concessions concerning strategic ballistic missiles. On Dec. 8, 1987, both parties signed the INF Treaty which led to hundreds of missiles being deactivated and disassembled between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Weinberg said that between the research and the video production of his documentary, he worked approximately 30 to 35 hours.

"The research process itself was not difficult," he said. He checked out many books from the Wilbraham Public Library on the defense initiative specifically, and the people involved in the conflict and the Reagan administration.

Weinberg said he was surprised that he earned second place at the state competition because a lot of other individual documentaries had "a lot more flash and flare."

"The judges really were looking for the information, and mine focused on that," he noted.

Patty Hogan, chair of the history department at Minnechaug, who also served as a judge at the state competition, said, "[Judges are] really looking for hardcore history usage. We look for the use of a lot of primary documents, like local history, newspaper article and town records."

He said he's "not particularly nervous" about the national competition. He has the opportunity to edit his project between now and June, but he said he won't be making any major changes, just some clarifications.

"I'm comfortable with the way it is," Weinberg said.

The high school senior will be attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., this fall and plans on majoring in math.

Hogan described Weinberg as "a treasure to Minnechaug."

"The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears," a group documentary from Anna Carlson, Katy Scott, Brianna Perry and Kimya Hedayat-Zadeh, received recognition for the "Best Use of Geography" at the state competition as well, according to Hogan.