National History Day

National History Day
National History Day
Abbreviation NHD, History Day, HD
Motto It's not just a day, It's an Experience
Formation 1974
Type Nonprofit Organization
Legal status Foundation
Purpose/focus To teach essential historical literacy that motivates students to secure the future of democracy.
Headquarters University of Maryland, College Park
Location Maryland
Region served United States of America
Membership 500,000 students, 30,000 teachers per year
Official languages English
Executive Director Cathy Gorn
Affiliations American Association for State and Local History, American Historical Association, Federation of State Humanities Councils, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Center for History in the Schools, National Council for History Education, National Council for the Social Studies, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Archivists

National History Day (or History Day) is a national academic competition, focusing on history, for students in grades 6-12. Each year, more than half a million students construct entries as an individual or in a group in one of five categories-Documentary, Exhibit, Paper, Performance or Website[1]. Students then compete in a series of contests (Regional and State) to proceed to the National Contest.

The mission of National History Day is to provide students with opportunities to learn historical content and develop research, thinking and communication skills through the study of history and to provide educators with resources and training to enhance classroom teaching.


History of National History Day

NHD started as a small contest in Cleveland in 1974.[2] Members of the History Department at Case Western Reserve University developed the initial idea for a history contest akin to Science Fair. Students gathered on campus to devote one day to history calling it "National History Day." Over the next few years, the contest expanded throughout Ohio and into surrounding Midwestern states. By 1980, NHD had grown into a national organization and in 1992 NHD moved its headquarters from Cleveland to the Washington, D.C., area. Although the name remained the same, NHD is now a national organization with year-round programs and a week-long national contest held at the University of Maryland, College Park.[3]

Project Creation

Annual Theme

The annual theme is usually a phrase, such as "Rights and Responsibilities in History," and often an alliteration, like, "Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History" and is usually accompanied by a graphic showing an event, person and/or group in history which exemplifies the theme. The annual themes, while giving a general framework for a project, still allow for a wide range of project topics. Themes are rotated each year. For instance, in History Day 2012-2013, the proposed theme is "Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events,"[4] which was used in both the 1983 and 2000 contests[5]. Subtitles are also similar across different years, the 2012-2013 theme sharing greatly in name to History Day 2005-2006's theme of "Taking a Stand in History: People, Ideas, Events." [6]

The theme for 2011 is "Debate and Diplomacy: Successes, Failures, and Consequences of History". The Theme in 2012 is "Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History"

Divisions and Categories

There are two divisions of competition: the Junior Division for students grade 6-8 and the Senior Division for students grade 9-12. Students can then choose whether to compete as a group of two to five students or as an individual in four different categories-Exhibit, Documentary, Performance, and Website.[7] Only individual students may compete in the Paper Category. Each Category in each Division only competes with projects of the same Category-Division combination (a Junior Paper project will only compete with other Junior Paper projects).[8] Ergo, groups can be made up of mixed grades (a 6th and 7th grader for instance), but cannot be made up of mixed divisions (e.g. a 12th grader and 8th grader).[9]


One choice for presentations is producing a documentary. Students may create documentaries using a variety of materials including slides, video, audio and computers. Whatever presentation format is chosen, students must be able to operate all equipment, both during production and at each level of competition.

The most important aspect of any History Day entry is its historical quality. Aesthetic quality is valued less than the quality of the data presented. The most common forms for making a documentary is by film presentations and computer-based presentations. Due to the proliferation of computers, physical slide-form presentations are now very rarely produced by students. There is no talking allowed by the presenters during the documentary. It must be able to stand alone using voice overs or recordings. In addition, any presentations which require manual progression (i.e. slide-form, un-automated PowerPoint) can be disqualified.


The most popular category, exhibits are designed to display visual and written information on topics in an attractive and understandable manner, similar to exhibits found in a museum. People walking by the piece should be attracted to an exhibit's main idea and, therefore, stop to learn more about the topic. To be successful, an exhibit must create an effective balance between visual interest and historical explanation. The most common form of exhibit entry is a three-panel display, but others, such as a rotating cylinder have been used.[10] There is a 500-word limit for student-composed written materials, with brief citations and quotes not contributing to the word count (not student composed) and with dates counting as one word. The 500 word limit is not strictly enforced, as it is used more as a guiding tool for students.[11]


The paper category is the only category where only individual students may compete. Papers are usually expected to be submitted weeks in advance, for in depth readings by the judges, prior to the Contest. Papers may have a maximum of 2500 words and must be no fewer than 1500 words. Notes, annotated bibliography, illustration captions, and supplemental/appendix material do not contribute to the word count.[12]


The Performance/Acting category covers scripted performances based on original historical research [13]Performance/Acting is the only category in which students present their research live. Entries in this category must have dramatic appeal, but not at the expense of historical information. Students must make effective use of their 10-minute time allowance. Contestants cannot reset their 10 minutes if any sort of spectacle (sound, set, etc.) goes wrong, adding another layer of difficulty.

Use of music, set and costumes is allowed, but not required. Contestants are given a maximum of 5 minutes to set up all props/set that they wish to use in their performance. Contestants are also given a maximum of 5 minutes to remove all props/set. Performances are usually memorized and must be performed with diction, clarity and volume.[14]


The website is the newest of all of the categories, having originated in History Day 2007-2008, and with its rules still in flux. Students must create their own website using the NHD version of the Weebly editor. The website category was introduced early on in California, in 1997.[15] It quickly spread-by History Day 2007-2008, regional competitions were added; and in History Day 2008-2009 the addition of a national competition made Website a full-fledged category. There is a 1200-word limit on all websites, and the website itself must be optimized for Trident-based browsers such as Internet Explorer. All websites must also contain less than 100MB.

Written Material: Title Page, Process Paper and Annotated Bibliography

A title page, process paper and annotated bibliography is required for all projects, except for papers which does not require the process paper. The process paper is a short, 500-words or less, paper detailing the steps which the contestants took in preparing their project. This is followed by the bibliography, a standard annotated bibliography containing all sources that provided new and usable information for the preparation of the project. Each entry must be followed by a short description of each source, how it was used and how it relate to one's main topic and the yearly theme. The bibliography must be separated by primary and secondary sources, as well source type (Primary Interviews versus Secondary Periodicals). Although many contestants choose to use MLA for ease of use, Turabian is allowed.[16]



National History Day participants are judged on three deciding factors: Historical Quality, Relation to Theme, and Clarity of Presentation. [17] Research should include primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Additionally, sources need to be clearly cited with the inclusion of an annotated bibliography. [18]

State and Regional Competitions

Regionals: Students who place first, second, or third at regional competitions receive small trophies and/or medals. First and second place students in each category advance to states, and the third place serves as an alternate if one of the two cannot make it.

State: Students who place first or second at state competitions receive small trophies and/or medals and are allowed to advance to the national competition. Additionally, students may win a large variety of cash awards at state.

National Competition

48 states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Schools, American Samoa, International Schools of Asia and Guam participate in National History Day.


The preliminary round at the national competition is similar to the presentations made at the district and state levels.


A select number of projects are allowed on to the finals at the national competition. Those in the performance category repeat their performance a final time for new judges, usually 1–2 days before the final Award Ceremony. Those in paper,website, and exhibit categories, however, aren't informed if they have made it on to the final round. Their project then has to stand alone for the final judging.

Example of a National History Day Medal

The awards for first, second, and third place at the national level are $1000 for first place, $500 for second place, and $250 for third place. The second and third place amounts are rewards for all categories. In addition, Senior Division documentaries enjoy a $5000 1st place prize, instead of $1000 due to a grant from the History Channel.[19] "Outstanding Entry" awards are also given to two projects from each state: one junior entry and one senior entry.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "What's in a Name?" National History Day. 2008. National History Day. 13 Nov. 2008 <>.
  3. ^ Byers, David. "Four score and seven years ago... Costumed history buffs hit campus in national competition." The Diamondback Online 15 June 2006: 1-1.
  4. ^ National History Day. "Themes." National History Day. 2008. National History Day. 14 Nov. 2008 <>.
  5. ^
  6. ^ National History Day, Inc. "Theme Synopsis." 2005. National History Day, Inc. 14 Nov. 2008 <>.
  7. ^ National History Day. Contest Rule Book Revised 2008. College Park, MD, 2008. 6.
  8. ^ National History Day. Contest Rule Book Revised 2008. College Park, MD, 2008. 7.
  9. ^ National History Day. Contest Rule Book Revised 2008. College Park, MD, 2008. 6-7.
  10. ^ National History Day. "Exhibit." National History Day. 2008. National History Day. 14 Nov. 2008 <>.
  11. ^ National History Day. Contest Rule Book Revised 2008. College Park, MD, 2008. 14-15.
  12. ^ National History Day. Contest Rule Book Revised 2008. College Park, MD, 2008. 13.
  13. ^
  14. ^ National History Day. Contest Rule Book Revised 2008. College Park, MD, 2008. 16-17.
  15. ^ National History Day. "Online Discussion: Web Site Category." National History Day. 2008. National History Day. 14 Nov. 2008 <>.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ The History Channel Website. "National History Day." The History Channel Website. 2006. History Channel. 16 Nov. 2008 <>.

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Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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