National History Day Projects

Instructor: Adam Nystrom

Adam owns a Master's degree in Professional and Digital Media Writing. During his time as a graduate assistant, he developed lesson plans for upper-level English courses.

The National History Day Contest is the culmination of middle and high school student research on a topic of their choice. Keep reading to learn what a National History Day project might look like and get examples of previous winners.

About National History Day

National History Day isn't some obscure holiday, and it's more than just a day - it's actually an annual week-long academic history competition that started in 1974. The National History Day Contest is open to 6th-12th graders and typically sees more than half a million participants each year.

After competing at the local level, contestants come from all over the world to present their finished product in a national final held at the University of Maryland. Projects must be associated with the year's theme and be presented in the form of a documentary, exhibit, performance, website or paper. The project categories for this competition are outlined below.

Documentaries, Single and Group

Thanks to the power of smartphones and YouTube, you don't need a massive budget and reels of film to shoot a documentary for National History Day. Here are some of the winners of the 2015 contest:

  • Heal the Man, Heal the Land: Roosevelt's Legacy Through the Civilian Conservation Corps by Brent Vela
  • Ella Baker: A Legacy of Grassroots Leadership by Siena Leone-Getten and Pa Ying Lor
  • Henry Ford: Driving America Into the Future by Frances Kroll and Michelle Kroll
  • A Legacy of Love and Laughter: Robert Porterfield's Barter Theatre by Mia Lazar

When you come up with your idea for a documentary, be sure to follow the rules of eligibility on the NHD website. This will be much more involved than a paper, and you'll need to be efficient with editing software as well.

Exhibits, Single and Group

These projects might involve a physical visual presentation that attendees can see in person and even manipulate with their hands. Winners of the 2015 NHD entries include:

  • Nelson Mandela: Leadership in the Fight Against Apartheid by Tate Hogrefe
  • Rose Valland: Recovering Stolen Culture in France by Madeleine Zemans, Sophia Datta, and Thani Greco
  • 'Them Damned Pictures': The Legendary Cartoons of Thomas Nast by Watson Moore, Sam Katz, and Brian Johnson
  • David E. Pesonen: The Battle for Bodega Head by Stacey Olson

You'll want to be sure you still have some kind of script prepared for the presentation, as well as answers to any questions that may pop up from your viewers.

Performance, Single and Group

For the true creative types, a performance could be anything from a reenactment to an imagined one-man or one-woman show. These took home top prizes in 2015:

  • Victory at All Costs: The Leadership and Legacy of Winston Churchill by Jay Mehta
  • The Brothers Grimm: How Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Led the Movement to Preserve Culture and Created a Legacy of Literature by Samantha Penny, Clancy Penny, Perry McCollough, Lillian Ward, and Grace Bowen
  • Resisting The Reins Of Power: Washington At His Finest In The Temple Of Virtue by Matthew Broussard
  • A Terrible Beauty is Born: The Leadership of James Connolly and Patrick Pearse and the Controversial Legacy of the Easter Rising by Isabella Altherr, Annabel Barry, Quinn Barry, Maxwell Chung, and Shannon Madden

Publishing Projects, Single and Group

Students also have the choice of creating a website or writing a paper. Keep in mind that the paper is only available as an individual option, and may consist of nonfiction research or take the form of a creative writing genre. These were some of the prize-winning projects in the website category:

  • John Muir: Leadership and Legacy in Establishing and Preserving National Parks by Adriana Ballinger
  • To Learn or to Earn? The National Child Labor Committee and the Fight Against Child Exploitation by Divya Pakianathan and Niharika Boinpally

Winning paper topics for 2015 included:

  • The Life and Legacy of Andrew 'Rube' Foster: Baseball's Forgotten Legend by Jordan French
  • Socialism with a Human Face: The Leadership and Legacy of the Prague Spring by Anna Stoneman

If you decide to enter a paper into the competition, check out the following courses to get help with the research, writing and revision processes. Courses are available in Middle School Language Arts, 11th Grade English and 12th Grade English.

Resources to Help You Get Started

If you need help coming up with an idea or want a resource to assist with your research, has many courses available to help you create your ideal project. Each of the options listed below includes engaging videos accompanied by transcripts that highlight key themes and terminology:

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