At age 11, Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary fifth-grader Andrew Douglas has learned more history than most people do in the course of a lifetime. He’s something of a wunderkind in U.S. and European history. He’s also amassed knowledge of Middle Eastern, South American and Asian histories. Last March, he parlayed his knowledge to a first-place finish in the Portland Regional History Bee. His win there earned him a trip to the National History Bee in Atlanta, Georgia, in June.
But for a kid who spends time learning about the events of the past, his love of the subject was sparked, at age 8, by something quite modern—Netflix. While browsing, he discovered and got hooked on Liberty’s Kids, an animated Revolutionary War–themed TV show.
Around the same time, Andrew began to participate in the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site’s living histories, which recreate the day-to-day activities of people involved with the trading center during the early to mid-1800s. He’s portrayed a blacksmith’s apprentice, clerk, and shopkeeper. “It’s all pretty fun,” he said.
His favorite era is the 19th century, rife with upheavals and inventions. “More stuff happened in that century than in the entire Middle Ages, really. People’s minds on everything from government to food to your daily life were changing,” said Andrew.
His vast knowledge of history fuels his conversations and debates with his father, Dave Douglas, a Columbia River High School teacher of—what else?—history. His mother, Sara Douglas, is an educator at Marrion Elementary School in Evergreen Public Schools.
Eisenhower fifth-grade teacher Jan Keenan also has nurtured his love of history. She introduced Andrew to the History Bee, for which he spent months preparing.
“He’s inspired his classmates to be more interested in history. … It’s been really exciting,” said Keenan.
“People just assume history is just a bunch of old black-and-white pictures and there’s nothing interesting about it,” said Andrew. “They never look deep into who the people were. And if they ever read into it, [they’d find] it’s not like reading a textbook. It’s like reading really good stories.”
At the National History Bee, a spelling bee–style showdown, Andrew faced more than 100 other students from across the U.S. in the elementary school division. As the field was narrowed to just eight competitors, he found himself in the final round. “I was happy I was there because I never thought I would get that far,” he said.
In fact, he went very far, earning runner-up status. Next year, as a student at Jason Lee Middle School, he plans to compete again and hopes to field a team to compete in the History Bee’s middle school division.
Until then, he can be content with the knowledge that he’s placed higher in the History Bee than any other student from Vancouver Public Schools. And with that accomplishment, Andrew Douglas has carved out his own piece of history.