History Day comes alive with Cooperstown Grad Program leadership

Mysteries at the Museum host Don Wildman jumps out of the page in this piece promoting his effort to bring history to life.

History Day comes alive with Cooperstown Grad Program leadership

By Tara Barnwell • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

The Cooperstown Graduate Program last week hosted popular Travel Channel host Don Wildman to kick off its new leadership role in New York’s National History Day competition.

“I went after it!” said Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP) Director Gretchen Sorin. “The New York State Historical Association sponsored the History Day for many years. Everyone in the state wanted it in their backyard, but I think it’s important that the event stay in Central New York.”

National History Day is the culmination of a year-long series of history programs for middle- and high-school students; New York hosts regional contests throughout the year with winners competing in the year-end event, launched virtually this year from the State University of New York at Oneonta in Spring 2022.

“These kids work all year long, learning how history is constructed with evidence, Dr. Sorin said. “They create exhibits, websites, documentaries, and live performances.”

New York National History Day 2022 carries the theme, “Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences.”

The goal – getting high schoolers involved with history and keeping them excited about it.

“History explorer” Don Wildman spoke last week to CGP students about his love for the topic.

“The natural filter of history isn’t dry and boring,” he said. “The shows that I produce and host are intended to bring history to life, to make it interesting and entertaining.”

“On television, I try to find the ‘hook’ of history, what turns people on about it,” he said. “We’re looking for the conflict. History needs to be told in an engaging way.”

Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP) Director Gretchen Sorin with Don Wildman

His most popular Travel Channel programs include “Mysteries at the Museum,” “Beyond The Unknown,” “Dark Tales with Don Wildman,” and “Buried Worlds with Don Wildman.”
“Telling the truth while engaging the viewers is the key,” he said. “My most popular shows do just that. They’re compelling shows that tell history lessons in an entertaining way.”

He was on his way from his CGP presentation to Cooperstown Central School to speak to a history class there.

“Some of those kids have grown up seeing me on tv and learning about history,” he said.

Mr. Wildman didn’t intend to be a history buff.

“My father was a history teacher,” he said. “I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau, a marine biologist. I’d watch him on tv and he took me places I couldn’t go in real life. But I was terrible in math and chemistry. I enrolled in the Drama Studio in London, came back to New York, waited tables, and worked my way into the business.”

“It all led to what I do now,” he said. “Executive produce and host these history shows!”

“Cities of the Underworld” is Mr. Wildman’s newest program, in its first season on The History Channel.

“This one originally ran from 2006 to 2008,” he said. “We’re revamping and re-doing it as a new version of the original. It will be full of new episodes, exploring the layered remnants of civilizations left buried deep under modern metropolitan centers.”

Mr. Wildman remains active in National History Day activities, sitting on its board of directors and visiting schools in New York State to speak with students.

“We talk about the stories of New York, the stories of America,” he said. “It’s fundamental for New York State kids to understand all of this. We have an important legacy here, diverse and cross-cultural. We must keep it alive.”

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