BRADENTON — There’s the story of William Bunce’s fishing rancho at DeSoto Point, home to Cubans, Seminoles and blacks in 1834.
Or the trial of Joseph Atzeroth for cattle theft in the 1850s.
Even the life and times of Miley Cyrus.
What do they have in common?
They’re all potential subjects in this fall’s Manatee County History Fair — even the 17-year-old pop princess who has probably never set foot there.
Choosing the right history project is what Phaedra Rehorn wants to cover at Saturday’s workshop for students and teachers interested in the November History Fair, sponsored by the Manatee County Historical Commission.
“Making history palatable for students is part of our objective,” said Rehorn, the education coordinator at the Manatee Village Historical Park. “We’d like them to choose something interesting to them and if it’s not Manatee County history — and we end up seeing the history of Miley Cyrus — we’re OK with that.
“But we’d much prefer something meatier and more local.”
Rehorn also hopes to increase the turnout for the history fair.
There were just more than 900 entrants last year, a significant decline from 1,500 a few years before.
“We’ve been courting the schools and teachers, trying to build a partnership, figuring out a way to get the projects back into the curriculum without making a lot of extra work for teachers,” Rehorn said. “We are making a push this year.”
Teachers like Marilyn Kelly have been history fair supporters before they became teachers. She was a judge while a student at the University of South Florida.
Kelly teaches U.S. and world history in Johnson Middle School’s International Baccalaureate program.
“I was always impressed with what kids have done,” she said. “It’s hands-on, they do research, make a project board, a website or a documentary.
“Local history is so interesting, too, ” said the 17-year educator. “I remember one student did one about a cemetery where victims of (1886) yellow fever that went through Palmetto were buried. It was impressive.”
Saturday’s workshop will be geared toward helping students find primary sources, historical records and resources online, and good ways to pick a topic and develop it.
This year’s fair theme is “Debate in Diplomacy and History: Successes, Failures and Consequences.”
“A lot depends on how far back students are willing to go,” Rehorn said. “We want them to focus on the research, not just the presentation for these projects and that takes a lot of time. If we can get them started early and looking in the right places, they’ll do better research and come up with a better project.”
Sometimes that project is right next door.
Take it from Tom Honsa, another history fair supporter and honors history teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School.
“I had one student who found a neighbor of hers was a military chaplain in World War II and Korea,” he said. “Then he moved to Alabama, got involved with the Civil Rights movement and knew Martin Luther King. A next-door neighbor who was part of three major events in 20th Century American history.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.