Publication Date

September 1, 2000

Perspectives Section


Editor's Note: Perspectives will carry a fuller appreciation of David Van Tassel in a forthcoming issue.

Professor David Van Tassel with a National History Day participant. Photo courtesy NHD.The staff of National History Day and friends of NHD were deeply saddened by the loss of David Van Tassel, Founding Father of National History Day, who passed away in June. Van Tassel conceived the idea of History Day in 1974 and had the vision to turn it into a national program. “Certainly, David Van Tassel’s life had infinite impact on millions of elementary and secondary school students,” said NHD Executive Director Cathy Gorn.

While National History Day mourns his loss, the program also celebrates his life and contribution to history education. His legacy lives on in the hundreds of thousands of students who make history come alive through National History Day. In honor of Van Tassel, National History Day renamed the national contest grand prize, a four-year scholarship to Case Western Reserve University, as the Van Tassel Founder's Award. (Hannah Debelak from Gates Mills, Ohio won the first Van Tassel Founder's Award for her dramatic performance entitled, "Dr. Spock: Turning the Road in Parenting.")

Van Tassel was a distinguished historian and chair of the history department at Case Western Reserve University until his retirement two years ago. He was coeditor and founder of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. In 1980 Van Tassel began work for this series on the history of Cleveland. He took the innovative approach of presenting urban history in an encyclopedic form. After it was published in 1987, the series became the standard for encyclopedias for other cities, including New York City and Indianapolis. “It’s a monument to his dream he had in 1980,” said John Grabowski, coeditor for the Encyclopedia. “He has given Clevelanders a better grasp of their past, their history and heritage.”

Van Tassel also pioneered studies on the elderly and received the Case Western Reserve University's Frank and Dorothy Hovorka Prize for his research. He edited two books on the subject and organized a major project (funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities) called Humanistic Values and Aging.

—, NHD

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