Résumé: Executive director and founder of the National History Bowl and National History Bee. Nineteen-time Jeopardy! champion. Former bicycle-tour guide, freelance genealogist, and art researcher. Master’s degree in international relations from the Free University of Berlin. Woodrow Wilson School major at Princeton.
HISTORY OF THE HISTORY BOWL While working to become a history teacher through Princeton’s teacher-preparation program in the fall of 2009, David Madden ’03 organized a high-school history competition, “almost for the fun of it,” he says. “I spent hundreds of hours writing questions and contacting 500-odd schools in the New York area,” he says. He pulled off the Tri-State History Bowl, with 140 students on 34 teams, in May 2010 at his former high school in Ridgewood, N.J.
BIGGER AND BIGGER He realized that he was on to something. He put his teacher-training program on hold and dug into expanding the competition. He organized 32 tournaments during the last school year, incorporating a history bee for individual competitors with the team-based bowls. A producer at the History Channel soon found out about Madden’s competitions, and representatives attended the national championship last spring. Madden says they told him that the average viewer wouldn’t be able to relate to the students because the questions they were answering were too hard, so he added a middle-school bee (with easier questions), whose finals — with a $50,000 scholarship grand prize — will be televised in the spring. The winner of the high-school bee will earn a trip to the French Riviera to compete in the championship of the European division he launched in 2011.
PUTTING THINGS IN CONTEXT Many of the questions in the bowls and bees are paragraph-length, moving from obscure to familiar facts about the topic as the question progresses. Competitors can buzz in at any time. This “pyramidal” format rewards students who can place facts in a historical context, so those who study broadly gain an edge. Madden hopes studying history for the competitions opens students’ eyes to new subjects. “History is so much more than names and dates and battles and trees,” he says.