Letter to Dr. Cathy Gorn, National History Day (July 1, 2020)
National History Day
Dear Dr. Gorn,
I am writing on behalf of the Board of the Museum Association of Arizona to express our concern over the new National History Day T-shirt, Evidence Matters. We share and support your organization's campaign to help the public understand the relevance of learning about our past. The Evidence Matters slogan, however, is too close to Black Lives Matter to be appropriate, especially at this critical junction as the history community bands together to be inclusive and help mend our nation's divides.
At this time in our history, it is critical that we all show strong support for increasing our understanding and taking action to improve racial justice and equity. Respecting the Black Lives Matter movement is an important part of that action. The use of a similar phrase by National History Day is insensitive and disrespectful, and trivializes an important movement.
Additionally, for those not familiar with National History Day, the word “evidence” suggests support for those who believe that people are making things up about their interactions with the police.
MAA shares your passion for educating and inspiring students who will lead our profession into the future. To that end, we hope that you will take our concerns into consideration and remove the Evidence Matters T-shirt from your merchandising efforts.
Museum Association of Arizona
Response from Dr. Gorn (July 2, 2020)
Dear Ms. Klein,
Thank you for your email, comments, and concerns on behalf of the Board of the Museum Association of Arizona.
The "Evidence Matters" shirt you reference is a T-shirt we have sold for several years at our national contest. Because we could not hold an in-person contest this year, we made these and many other shirts available for purchase via our online shop. The "Evidence Matters" T-shirt design and meaning is intended to promote a crucial tenet in the work of historians: to present a strong, cogent argument, one must conduct thorough research and collect as much evidence from the historical record as possible to critically analyze the figures, events, and movements of the past; historians are trained not to make assumptions but to back up conclusions with evidence. It is a core principle National History Day has promoted to students over the course of our organization's 46-year existence. Good history demands rich context, thorough research, and solid evidence.
These shirts and the phrase "Evidence Matters" are not tongue in cheek. We are not attempting to be cute or copy a phrase from another movement, namely Black Lives Matter. I applaud you for your consciousness and passion on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement, and assure you that National History Day and I share your goal, as you say, of banding together the history community to help mend the nation's divides. Further, I appreciate your advocacy for "increasing our understanding and taking action to improve racial justice and equity." Through our own ongoing work to improve the teaching and learning of history, National History Day works to do exactly that.
In response to the death of George Floyd and our nation's shameful record of systemic racial injustice, I issued two statements over the past month to encourage our students, teachers, and the National History Day community to be more informed and active participants in their communities and movements for justice. I issued this statement on June 3 (also attached), and this one a few days later via NHD's YouTube channel and social media. Our goal at NHD is to use the lessons of history to instill in the nation's middle and high school students the knowledge and confidence to take personal responsibility for what is right, just, and necessary to become civically engaged and invested participants in democracy.
In service of what National History Day promotes and the way it encourages students to think about research and doing history, the phrase "Evidence Matters" is wholly appropriate. Its relation to Black Lives Matter due to the use of a form of the infinitive, "to matter," is entirely coincidental.
Cathy Gorn, Ph.D.
National History Day
4511 Knox Road
College Park, MD 20740