Historians, archivists, and other experts can be fantastic resources for History Fair students if students prepare well before making contact. Many scholars are happy to help History Fair researchers, but they won't do your work for you. That is, they are usually happy to grant interviews or provide input after it is clear that you have already done a significant amount of research and begun to formulate more in-depth questions or preliminary conclusions. The more work you put into preparing your project before you write or call the scholar, the more likely you are to receive a response and get the type of assistance for which you are searching.
- Be specific about how you hope that the scholar can help you. Are you requesting an interview? Suggestions on your project via email? If so, what are you hoping to gain from it? What insights can this person give you that you can't get from elsewhere?
- Use a subject line that makes it clear you are writing to the scholar for assistance with a History Fair project (for example: History Fair student seeks interview on Haymarket).
- Be specific about what work you have already done. If scholars know that you have already done your homework, they are much more likely to take your request seriously. Give titles of major books you've already read on the subject, as well as any significant primary sources you've consulted, interviews you've done, etc.
- Contact the right scholar. Historians specialize in particular areas of history. You wouldn't go to a cardiologist if you've broken your leg, so don't go to a historian unless you are seeking his or her specific area of expertise.
- Read the scholar's books or articles before contacting him or her. It will help you determine if he or she is the appropriate person to contact about your subject, and will help you ask more in-depth questions.
- If you are interviewing the scholar, prepare your questions carefully before making contact. Think strategically about what you need for your project. You may find it helpful to give the scholar some or all of the questions in advance so that he or she can better prepare for the interview as well.
- If you are interviewing a scholar, you will probably want to record the interview on audio or videotape, especially if you are in the documentary category. Inform the scholar prior to the meeting and request their permission to tape the interview. Test all equipment before the interview and come prepared for technical emergencies (back-up tapes, batteries, etc.).
- A common teen email address like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com may be fine for your friends, but may look like spam to a scholar. Consider setting up a second official (formal) account for serious inquiries.
- Feel free to ask for the scholar's advice on research. They love to give recommendations about great books or primary source collections if it's obvious you've already made a good effort to find important material yourself.
- Ask your teacher to read your draft before you hit send. The better your request, the more likely you are to get a response!
Remember: Even if the scholar you interview is the most helpful source in your research, that does not mean that he or she is a primary source. Because historians and other scholars look at the primary sources (the original first-hand materials from the time period) and interpret them, they are secondary sources.