At a student history competition filled with traditional topics -- the Underground Railroad, the Irish potato famine -- research on rock 'n' roll may come as a surprise. And that's exactly the reaction its authors want.
Hoping to bring a new perspective to the subject of migration, a group of Baltimore County middle school students drew yesterday on everyone from Buddy Holly to the Beatles in their National History Day entry at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The weeklong event challenges participants to think and work as historians. For five students from Southwest Academy in Woodlawn, that meant illustrating how popular British Invasion artists of the 1960s were deeply influenced by American musicians.
"We wanted to do something unique," said Megan Webster, 14, one of the pupils involved in researching "The Migration of Rock and Roll from the United States to the United Kingdom."
History Day participants -- some 2,000, in middle and high school -- have worked on their research since last year, conducting interviews, sifting through books and using the Internet. Topics had to have a migration theme.
"They look at History Day as a detective project," said Rachel Brubaker, state coordinator for Maryland's History Day program. "They're digging out the clues in creative ways."
Contestants have been doing their best to impress the judges with projects in categories that range from science fair-type exhibits to performances. Cash prizes are on the line.
The Baltimore County group -- recent Southwest graduates Webster; Amanda Allen, 14; Sarah Aiello, 14; Andrew Crochunis, 13; and Rachel Ledley, 14 -- has never been to the national competition. But they're not neophytes, either. To get to National History Day, they successfully steered their rock 'n' roll research through school, local and state contests.
And although they were up against 90 other groups, the Woodlawn students were calm yesterday as judging time approached.
"We know the information," said Aiello. "There's really nothing to get nervous about."
When judges came to the group's exhibit, they saw a small, white poster board covered with photographs and maps. Pithy paragraphs explained how five American artists -- including Buddy Holly and Little Richard -- influenced some of the most popular British artists of the 1960s: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin.
The Stones, for instance, took their name from a song by American blues musician Muddy Waters -- a fact the students were quick to point out to judges.
Judges also learned how rock 'n' roll moved from the United States to England, primarily through radio stations, tours and records. They studied a map marking the migration route of the different types of rock 'n' roll -- for example, Bill Haley and the Comets' music traveling from Pennsylvania to Liverpool, home of the Beatles.
And they peppered the students with questions. What could have happened if Buddy Holly didn't die? And why pick that subject, anyway?
The Southwest students have to wait until tonight to find out if their research makes the initial cut. Final results won't be out until Thursday. But no matter what happens, the students said their research changed the way they look at history.
"At first, you think history is kind of boring, but after doing this project, you realize it could be about anything," Crochunis said.
"I found out that history is fun," Allen added.
Pub Date: 6/16/98