Patton eighth graders will make history presentations on Saturday
Posted on 04/17/2015

From the News-Register:

Eighth-graders to present at history competition

Two Patton Middle School eighth-graders will present some intensive research they’ve done at the annual Oregon History Day competition on Saturday.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Oregon Historical Society in downtown Portland. Ninety-two students, most from private schools, will participate.

The McMinnville students are among 42 competing in the junior division.

Emmy Martin researched the 19th century French artist Vincent van Gogh. Taylor Rockwell researched J. Harlan Bretz, the first to understand how the great Missoula Floods shaped the Northwest landscape.

Both girls wrote lengthy papers on their subjects, then delved deeper into the topics to prepare for the state competition. They also had to create displays featuring visuals and quotes, and commit their information to memory so they can explain it to judges.

Taylor said her teacher, Scott Phoenix, suggested her topic when she arrived at Patton last fall. And she said Bretz turned out to be fascinating.

A history teacher in Eastern Washington, he started exploring the area’s unique geography in the early 1900s. As he walked, Taylor said, he spotted features such as a dry waterfall 3 1/2 miles long.

He theorized the landscape had been shaped quickly by a cataclysmic flood, rather than scoured by glaciers over the course of millions of years. Other scientists dismissed his theory, even calling him crazy, Taylor said, but he persisted. Today, his discovery of the Missoula Floods is accepted science.

Both Taylor and Emmy plan to explain their research subject’s “legacy and leadership,” in keeping with the contest theme. Neither man was a leader in the conventional sense, they said, but both stood up for what they believed in and are remembered for making a difference in their fields.

In Emmy’s case, she said she wants not only to point out that van Gogh was memorable, but to change the way many people remember him.

When someone says “van Gogh,” many people think of the artist’s flaws as well as his paintings, she said. While it’s true he suffered from depression, spent time in a mental hospital and sliced off his own ear, that’s just one part of his story.

“Yes, maybe he was obsessed with painting, but he had needs, wants, love,” Emmy said. “Love was a big part of who he was.”

 The eighth-grader said she empathizes with van Gogh. And she admires the way he maintained his optimism, continuing to produce sketches, paintings and detailed letters to his brother.

She read many of the letters as part of her research. “So it was like I had a direct glimpse into his mind,” she said.

Taylor also was able to read some of Bretz’s original writings as well. And both she and Emmy said they wish they could talk to their subjects today. Now that they know so much about them, they have lots of questions.