National History Day®(NHD) is a non-profit education organization based in College Park, Maryland. NHD offers year-long academic programs that engage over half a million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. Since 1974, NHD has continuously improved history education by providing professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators. The largest NHD program is the National History Day Contest that encourages more than half a million students around the world to conduct historical research on a topic of their choice. Students enter these projects at the local and affiliate levels, with top students advancing to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Each year more than half a million students participate in the National History Day Contest. Students choose a historical topic related to the annual theme, and then conduct primary and secondary research. You will look through libraries, archives and museums, conduct oral history interviews, and visit historic sites. After you have analyzed and interpreted your sources, and have drawn a conclusion about the significance of your topic, you will then be able to present your work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a website.
Topics for research are everywhere! Think about a time in history or individuals or events that are interesting to you. Start a list.
• Read books, newspapers or other sources of information and add to your list.
• Talk with relatives, neighbors, or people you know who have lived through a particular time in history that interests you and add more ideas.
• Keep thinking, reading and talking to people until you have many ideas that are interesting.
Now go back through the list and circle the ideas that connect with the theme. From the ideas that you circled, select one to begin your research. Keep your list because you might need it again. Selecting a National History Day Contest topic is a process of gradually narrowing down the area of history (period or event) that interests you to a manageable subject.
For example, if you’re interested in Native Americans and the theme is Leadership and Legacy in History, a natural topic would be treaty rights. Now from there, you would consider the resources you have available to you—perhaps your local historical society—and possibly choose a Native American/U.S. treaty based in your affiliate’s history.
Theme: Leadership and Legacy
Interest: presidential power
Topic: Andrew Jackson and the removal of the Cherokee Nation
Issue: the refusal of a president to enforce a Supreme Court ruling
Now that you understand the rules and the theme for National History Day, and have chosen your historical topic, it is time to choose how you want to present your work. But what are the categories? And how are they different? Here are the five possible categories:
Visit the Categories page to learn the differences between the categories and how to develop your project.
A process paper is a description of how you conducted your research, developed your topic idea, and created your entry. The process paper must also explain the relationship of your topic to the contest theme. For more information on the Process Paper and other rules, review the Contest Rule Book.
Before you can compete at the National Contest, you must enter the National History Day Contest through your local, regional, or affiliate contest. For details on contest dates, submission deadlines, and materials, contact your National History Day state/affiliate coordinator.
Judges will use NHD Evaluation Forms to evaluate your entry. You are encouraged to use these forms as a guide in developing your project. Then, after the contest, carefully review the judges' feedback. If your project is moving on to a higher competition level, consider ways to strengthen your work. Between contest levels, you may continue your research, refine your analysis, and revise your project, including your title. However, you may not change your topic.
The evaluation form has two sections: Historical Quality (80%) and Clarity of Presentation (20%).
The evaluation of Historical Quality is the same for all categories. This section focuses on the strengths of your historical argument, research, and relationship to the theme. Clarity of Presentation is different for each entry category. It evaluates how well your project communicates your argument using the tools of your category.