By Noah Sheidlower
Hand grasping the buzzer, Junior Andersen Gu attentively listens to the reader as the final history tossup is revealed, quickly recalling dates, battles, names, and empires and eliminating incorrect answers. The room is silent as the reader continues to read the tossup question, the seven finalists panicking after the first clue is read. Suddenly, Gu hears the name “Jahangir” and within a millisecond smashes down the buzzer and correctly answers “Mughal Empire.” The finals of the History Bee are over, Gu receiving not only a medal but also recognition for being one of the best history specialists in the Northeast.
Gu recently finished in second place out of over 30 Varsity competitors at the Lower Hudson History Bee competition, an individual buzzer competition consisting of a series of history tossups, the student answering the most correct tossups after four rounds being declared champion. Gu also led South’s A team to second place out of 16 teams in the Lower Hudson History Bowl competition, which is similar in format to the History Bee but is team based. By finishing second in both competitions, Gu qualified for the National History Bee & Bowl (NHBB) in Washington D.C. and International History Olympiad in Berlin, Germany.
“Placing second in the varsity was unexpected, as the field had been strong, filled with some of the best players in the country,” Gu reflected. “With such an incredible start to the History Bee and Bowl season, I cannot wait to see what victories are to come.”
Gu attributes his passion for studying history to his father who exposed him to wars and battles in elementary school. Everyday after school, he would watch military history documentaries or play historical video games. After entering high school, however, Gu discovered that history was much more than the memorization of dates and important figures.
“History provides the context behind some of the most pressing issues of our day while at the same time opens the door to solutions to the same issues through the actions of individuals in decades, centuries, and millennia past,” Gu said. “Thus, in a sort of paradoxical way, understanding the details of the past can provide solutions to issues that lay far beyond in our future.”
Gu joined South’s Quiz Bowl team in 9th grade and immediately began studying wars, historical figures, and political transformations for upcoming tournaments. Gu continues to read Wikipedia articles and historical documents and watches history-related YouTube videos and documentaries to witness professional stances on controversial issues throughout history. In addition, Gu spends hours a week reading Quiz Bowl and History Bowl questions from past tournaments to better comprehend the types of questions that frequently come up.
Gu’s studying strategy proved effective after winning last year’s Lower Hudson History Bee and the 2017 Long Island Winter History Bee, both in the Junior Varsity division. These victories invigorated his work ethic; Gu studied for hours per week leading up to the 2017 History Bowl Nationals, learning about more obscure wars and figures and more advanced economic concepts. As a result, Gu captained his Junior Varsity History Bowl team to 10th nationwide.
But to him, his recent second place finishes in the History Bee and History Bowl competitions represents more than just a medal or a congratulations on the official website. Studying history and reaffirming his knowledge through tournaments allows him to better understand the deep and complex social questions that the world faces today. By studying world history, Gu concluded that remaining ignorant to the cultures and foundations of societies limits people’s interpretations of “foreign and alien ongoings” within them, thus hampering their ability to recognize global dilemmas and formulate solutions.
“History provides the lens from which we can expand our understanding of the world not only within our own society but also of human society as a whole,” Gu said. “Without an understanding of a country’s history and culture, it is impossible to recognize the timeless issues that plague a society or the foundations of the great cultures blossoming around the world today.”