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WVU freshman wins National History Day award

New Mountaineer Brennan Lawless is off to a fast start as a West Virginia University freshman. The Daniels, West Virginia, native attended New Student Orientation on June 4, and won an award at National History Day just a week later.

Lawless finished second in the nation for his individual documentary “Books, Bombs, and Barricades: The Kanawha County Textbook War and West Virginia’s Role in the Rise of Educational Conservatism.” 

Brennan Lawless

In the documentary, Lawless explores the conflicts among parents and their beliefs as well as the leaders from both the pro- and anti-textbook forces. It also discusses the violence that ensued as a result of the adoption of controversial books.

“I decided to compete in documentaries because I think that they are the most effective way of connecting the audience with the raw emotion of the event that you’re explaining, and giving them both sides of the story,” said Lawless, a direct admit student in the School of Pharmacy and a member of the WVU Honors College. “When they announced my name, I felt numb. I was so excited! An entire year’s worth of work had finally paid off.”

Lucas Mooney, a homeschooled student from Jefferson County, West Virginia, placed ninth for his individual documentary “Pedro Pan: An Exodus for Hope” and won the best senior entry in the Latino-American history category. Jaelyn Jett from Calhoun County Middle School and Laken Kincaid from Independence High School won awards as the West Virginia representatives who ranked highest in their first-round groups. 

“For many West Virginia students, the national contest is the first opportunity they have had to travel outside of the state,” said Melissa Bingmann, director and associate professor of public history at WVU and co-coordinator of the West Virginia affiliate National History Day event. “They meet students from all over the country who share their enthusiasm for learning about the past.”  

Eighteen high school and middle school students from Calhoun, Raleigh and Jefferson counties in West Virginia competed at National History Day in College Park, Maryland, June 11-13. More than 3,000 students from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Central America, China, Guam, Puerto Rico and South Asia presented papers, exhibits, documentaries, websites and performances on historical topics pertaining to the theme “Conflict and Compromise.” 

To qualify for the national competition, the West Virginia students first competed at the West Virginia affiliate National History Day competition, hosted by the Department of History, WVU Libraries and the West Virginia Department of Education in April 2018.

“The Department of History hosts the West Virginia affiliate National History Day because of its emphasis on rigorous academic research and historical analysis,” said Joseph Hodge, chair of the Department of History. “As a land-grant institution, this is an excellent program that encourages faculty to work with West Virginia communities beyond campus.”  

The 2018 West Virginia affiliate competition was organized in part by Department of History senior Elizabeth Herrick during her service year as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member. Her service is made possible through a Preservation Alliance of West Virginia grant from Volunteer WV, the West Virginia Commission for National and Community Service and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“Participating in National History Day has truly prepared for me any history career that I pursue,” Herrick said. “The public relations, communication, event planning and organization skillsets that I have acquired will be highly applicable to any job.” 

West Virginia K-12 teachers interested in participating in National History Day can contact Bingmann at or co-coordinator Allegra Kazemzadeh at  

Tagged with History