La Jolla student’s history association goes national

William Guo, a senior at The Bishop's School in La Jolla
William Guo, a senior at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, started a student history association to connect history lovers nationwide.
(Provided by William Guo)

William Guo of The Bishop’s School started the American Student Historical Association last year, and it’s attracting young history fans around the country.


Hoping to rewrite history’s place in education, La Jolla student William Guo started the American Student Historical Association last year, bringing like-minded history buffs together in an organization that has expanded nationally.

“I really like history,” said Guo, a senior at The Bishop’s School.

He started ASHA last fall to get fellow young history enthusiasts together to connect, collaborate and learn.

“It is our sincerest wish that every one of our members will find gratification, joy and personal growth in the field of history wherever their lives lead and make a lasting positive contribution to the community and world around them,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

“My hope is … to reach as many people as possible to bring history to the forefront because I do believe that history is just as important as math and science,” Guo said.

ASHA now has about 30 members from nine schools across the country, but at the outset it was difficult to find groups of students at local schools interested in history.

“We often prioritize STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] ... rather than history,” Guo said.

After reaching out to dozens of schools, Guo found ASHA’s second member in Reed Fess, a senior at Mission Bay High School in Pacific Beach.

“I was having the same kind of connectivity issues with my peers,” said Fess, who started a history club on campus that had only two members.

Guo’s dream for ASHA was “a larger thing,” Fess said, and it aligned with Fess’ ideal version of a history association.

The organization grew slowly, holding monthly meetings with local historians like David Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of history at the University of San Diego.

ASHA’s first meeting focused on San Diego history, which Guo found fascinating.

“History in schools is usually focused on three areas,” he said. “We do modern world history going back about 200 years. And then we have European history and then we have American history.”

That leaves most of the world’s land and people left out of the school curriculum, he said. “I thought it’d be interesting to … expand our horizons.”

“I think San Diego has a lot of history that isn’t focused on,” Fess said. He added that much discussion of California history is focused on other areas, while the maritime history of San Diego is often “completely ignored.”

With historical features such as Old Town, Balboa Park and the Star of India, it’s imperative that San Diegans become familiar with local history, though many are not interested “or don’t have the resources to figure out how their community was built,” Fess said.

Some ASHA meetings have been on topics including Brazilian and African history.

“My hope is … to reach as many people as possible to bring history to the forefront because I do believe that history is just as important as math and science.”

— William Guo

Bringing history into the present

Reed Fess, a senior at Mission Bay High School, says he loves learning history for the everyday cultural information.
(Provided by Reed Fess)

The organization now has members who schedule ASHA events like community service projects, including an upcoming plan to help remove invasive plants and install native plants throughout Old Town.

“It’s just as much lecturing as it is hands-on, getting into community learning,” Fess said.

Activities are a “really nice way for us to give back in ways we can to help preserve our history, to help dig up more history,” Guo said. “We can all move forward … with better knowledge of who we are and what we are, what we were in the past.”

ASHA is “expanding really quickly,” Guo said. He estimated that with ongoing membership recruitment efforts, ASHA will boast at least 50 members in the next few weeks.

National meetings are held virtually, but Guo encourages members to meet locally when they can to take on activities and “do what we can to help bring history to light,” he said.

History’s place in history

The often-repeated phrase that we must learn history to avoid repeating it is a large part of its importance, Fess said.

Guo agrees: “I think the big idea for history is that it’s real people who experienced it as real people. [It] can show us what could happen in the world if people do this thing.

“We should take advantage of that and see what results work, what results don’t work.”

Beyond the lessons, “what draws me to history is the cultural ‘every day,’” Fess said. “I’m not super interested in war history or big-event history. I want to know how people lived every day. I want to know what they did, what they saw, what they ate.”

Discussing history also honors what “your ancestor did to get you here,” Guo said. Those actions are “part of your heritage, a part of us that defines us whether we like it or not.”

Humans “can take comfort in knowing from history that our ancestors felt the same anxiety and excitement as we did and go into the future, which we will help build, knowing that we are not alone,” he said.

History is even more important to study “because I believe it is an important piece of the puzzle to build a holistic person,” Guo said.

Student-led associations

Fess was drawn to and remains in ASHA “because it’s important to have student-driven opportunities,” he said, noting that national organizations often are run by adults and “it seems like they don’t do much. ... It is so much more productive when it’s a student-led club.”

Part of that is ASHA’s journal “to enable younger people and high-schoolers to submit their historical pieces of writing,” Guo said. “It’s a channel for people to push themselves out there and expose their pieces of artwork for a wider audience.”

“You have an opportunity to change something,” Fess said.

For more information, visit @american_student_hist_assoc on Instagram or email