Alli Hanson is ready to present her History Day project about food safety standards at state competition in May.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Alli Hanson is ready to present her History Day project about food safety standards at state competition in May. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Devann Harris and Alli Hanson don't want history to rest.

They're digging up evolution and meat inspection.

"My project is on evolution and fundamentalism, and whether evolution should be taught in schools," said Chatfield High School student Harris, who, along with Hanson, is part of the delegation of 15 of Tom Hilgren's history students advancing to the state History Day competition at the University of Minnesota on Saturday, May 3.

Harris explained why she chose the topic of evolution being taught in schools as a History Day documentary project - her choice relates in part to her father, Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris, and to the science department of another school.

"My dad dealt with somebody about this earlier in his career. He had to explain that this - evolution - was what they taught in biology class, and Mr. Hilgren was throwing out ideas for projects," Harris said. "I remembered what my dad had said, and I thought it was a pretty interesting topic."

Her research into William Bell Riley, a Baptist pastor who petitioned for evolution not to be taught in public schools, led her to take field trips to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), the University of Minnesota and First Baptist Church in Minneapolis. She conducted file searches and interviews at each of the locations, one of them with First Baptist Church's Layton Brueske, who knew Riley personally.

"My dad and I took a trip to Coffman Hall at the University of Minnesota," she cited, "and Coffman thought that evolution should be taught, but Riley thought things should remain the same. I found 25 to 30 documents actually written in support of teaching evolution, and some saying 'no' to Mr. Riley."

The research process introduced Harris to a hot debate in Minnesota's history, as well as the differences between primary and secondary sources and the need for each as she prepares her project for state, making minor changes to the documentary to give it more credibility and historic value.

"At the beginning, the most surprising thing to me was...how Riley took it to the Legislature," Harris explained. "He put so much effort into it, and that was probably the biggest surprise to me."

Harris also learned that evolution continues to be an issue - states believe it should be either a state or national law - and she learned it plays a big role in society.

"If this debate had never happened, we probably would be teaching religious-based science, because it was a society where no one dared not to go to church," she added. "I've been really excited about adding new video clips to my documentary, adding color so that it's not just my voice and the camera panning over black and white photos. I am very much looking forward to going to state. I'm excited to be at the U of M, too."

Hilgren related his students have spent afternoons after school working on their projects to prepare for state and he noted the variety of projects the young historians have taken on.

"I've got a student who's doing one on prisoner of war camps in the United States and Minnesota. There are a bunch of projects on women's issues, all different topics. There's one on the Austin Sit-Down Strike of 1933 and Alli's (Hanson) is on the Federal Meat Inspection Act," he stated. "I've taken students to the Spam Museum, to MHS, to a remnant of a POW camp in Algona, Iowa, and we've gone to Mankato and Winona."

Hanson's project about the Meat Inspection and Pure Food and Drug Acts of 1906 captivated the regional History Day judges' attention.

"The main topic for my project is consumer rights and that consumers should have the right to know that the food they are eating is safe," she explained.

Hanson chose her topic because she and her sisters own beef cattle and a food concession trailer that serves various types of meat.

"I wanted to know more about how consumers could make sure the food they were eating was safe," she continued. "I also wanted to know what regulations there are regarding food and the safety of food. Since working on my project, I have learned about how food was before the two acts were enacted. Food was often spoiled or tainted, and consumers were unaware. I also learned that today, there are many laws regarding the safety of food."

Hanson pointed out that if the Meat Inspection and the Pure Food and Drug Acts had not passed, the food supply could be much different that it is today. The basic right that everyone expects could be very different, and dangerous food could be more prevalent without the passing of the two acts.

Hanson found she enjoyed researching the laws resulting from the passing of the food safety acts because "now, because of those two laws being passed, there are many more laws protecting consumer rights."

She was definitely surprised by the lack of food safety before the two acts were passed, and found the most challenging part of this topic to be reading the acts entirely.

"They are long, and sometimes not in the easiest language to read," Hanson admitted.

She liked presenting it to the judges and other History Day attendees, particularly being able to inform people of something that gets overlooked every day.

Hanson explained, "A lot of people just go to the grocery store and get their food, but they do not know that a lot of laws and regulations had to be passed in order for them to enjoy that food without worry."

She also observed, "The most rewarding thing about this project has been my accomplishment of making it to state. It showed that all the hard work I have done has paid off. When going to state, I look forward to competing at a much higher level. I also enjoy the extra research that is needed in order to make it a state presentation."

Hanson concluded, "History Day is a program that requires a lot of work, but in the end is very rewarding. It allows you to research in-depth a subject that you are interested in, and that is what makes it so fun."