Understanding the Rules and Theme
What do I do first? Read the rules...
Before you begin work on an entry for competition, you, your teacher, and your parents should carefully read the National History Day Contest Rule Book. Contact your district or state coordinator to learn if any rules have been revised since the publication of this rule book, and for more information on topics, sources, and deadlines. Find your state coordinator. For the 2012/2013 school year, the NHD rule book revised 2010/2011 is the current edition.
After I understand the rules, now what? Read about the theme...
Each year your research must connect to the NHD theme. The theme changes every year so if you do NHD every year, you will not repeat a theme. The themes are chosen to be broad enough to encourage investigation of topics ranging from local history to world history, and from ancient time to the recent past. To understand the historical importance of your topic you need to ask questions about time, place and context; cause and effect; change over time; and impact and significance. You must consider not only when and where events happened, but also why they occurred and what factors contributed to their development.
During the 2010-2011 school year National History Day invites students to research topics related to the theme of Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failure, Consequences. You need to keep the entire theme in mind: "In History," as well as "Debate and Diplomacy"; as you begin your research. While the most obvious topics might be famous debates like Lincoln and Douglas, or international diplomatic events like the Camp David Accords, remember to look for the lesser known topics. Don’t forget to look at debates in history that resurface again and again, like immigration and citizenship. Or try looking at a topic from a different perspective, like Indian treaties of the 18th and 19th century as examples of diplomacy.
Choosing a Topic
How do I choose a topic? Think, read, talk...
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.
I have an idea for a topic, now what? Narrow down the topic and connect it to the theme...
Selecting a National History Day 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 Rights and Responsibilities 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 state's history. Your process might look something like this:
Theme: Rights and Responsibilities in History
Or, if you're interested in Women's Rights and the theme is the Individual in History, you might choose voting rights. Next, consider where you might find further information on voting rights like a public library. After a library search and reading several texts about the era, you identify the women's suffrage movement as a topic, and then a leader in the struggle for the vote, Alice Paul. In this case, your process looks like this:
Theme: Individual in History
Or what if you are interested in The Civil War and the theme is Turning Points in History? You might read about the different battles. Utilizing the internet, you can take virtual tours and learn about different battles through the National Park Service. For instance, www.nps.gov/gett takes you to The Battle of Gettysburg or www.nps.gov/mana will take you to the battle of Bull Run. Pay close attention to other recommended resources as you read. They may point you to further reading on your topic. After reading the websites, you decide the turning point in The Civil War is The Battle of Gettysburg. The process looks like this:
Theme: Turning Points in History
Or what if you are interested in science and the theme is Innovation in History? You might research medical discoveries that changed the world like the discovery of penicillin or isolating DNA. Look for resources in libraries, excellent web sites and history of science museums. The process for narrowing your topic and connecting with the theme might follow this sequence:
Theme: Innovation in History
More topic ideas on this year's theme, Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events.
- Reign of Terror: Radicalization of the French Revolution
- The Treaty of Versailles in 1918 and its Consequences
- Valley Forge and the Development of the Continental Army
- John Maynard Keynes and the influence of Keynesian Economics
- The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 and the Growth of Suburban America
- The Third Punic War and the End of Carthage
- Harvard: College of the Colonies
- Walter Reed and the Conquest of Yellow Fever
- Mary Wollstonecraft and the Early Women's Rights Movement