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Frequently Asked Questions About National History Day

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What is National History Day?
National History Day is an exciting academic enrichment program that helps students learn about historical issues, ideas, people, and events. This yearlong academic adventure fosters students' enthusiasm for learning and their love for history. National History Day teaches the skills individuals need for a successful future. The program's three central elements develop participants' abilities to:

  • Complete extensive research;
  • Critically analyze and develop historical conclusions about information they have discovered in a variety of sources; and
  • Present and defend their interpretations in a critical, yet creative forum.

Working individually or collaboratively in groups of two to five, students produce historical documentaries, exhibits, dramatic performances, websites, and research papers based on an annual theme. Students in 6th through 12th grade may choose to participate in the competition cycle by presenting their research at a series of local, regional, state, and national events.

If students choose to participate in the event cycle, their work is evaluated at different stages by historians, educators, and professionals in related fields. Award-winning entries at the National History Day in Wisconsin state event held in late April/early May are then eligible to participate in the NHD national contest held in June in Washington, D.C.

What is the theme for this year's History Day?
Each year, National History Day selects a theme to guide student research. The theme is broad enough to allow students to research a variety of topics, yet engaging enough to inspire student interest. Student topics must fit the annual theme. Students should think about how their topic connects to the annual theme as a central component of their project. Learn more about the annual theme.

What are the contest categories?
Students may participate in either the junior division (grades 6-8) or senior division (grades 9-12). Students may participate as individuals or in groups of two to five. There are five contest categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, and website. Learn more about each of these categories.


What is the history of History Day?
NHD began as a small, local competition in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1974, when the department of history at Case Western Reserve University created a program to bolster the teaching and learning of history in schools. History Day expanded throughout Ohio and nearby states before becoming a national program in 1980. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the program grew during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, NHD moved its office to the Washington, D.C., area. While the competition remains at the core of the program, NHD is now a year-long academic program, serving teachers with curriculum materials, seminars, and professional development workshops, and offering summer internships for students. The Wisconsin Historical Society became the sponsoring institution for the program in our state in 2001.

Who is my regional coordinator?
Regional assignments are based on the county in which the school is located. Take a look at our Regional Coordinator Contact List for your school's assignment.

Who is the state coordinator?
View contact information for the state coordinator on our website.

Who do I contact for more information?
Contact either the state office or your regional coordinator. In addition to answering questions ourselves, we can also direct you to experienced teachers in the state who are able to provide advice based on their own classroom experiences.

Where can I find research resources?
History Day students need to find a variety of sources to help them understand the past, including primary and secondary sources. Both of these types of sources are important to a good History Day project and there are many different places that they can begin looking for them. Students often begin in their school library, but they don't stop there! Many will venture to local libraries, nearby university or college libraries, archives, museums, and more.

Many History Day students spend at least some of their research time – but not all! – online. While only a small fraction of all the research material that exists is available online, there is an ever increasing amount of primary sources that you can find on the web. Check out some of the resources past National History Day students have found useful.

Teacher may find it especially useful to team up with their school librarian, especially during the research part of the History Day process. In addition to resources at the school, fieldtrips to local libraries or nearby university or college libraries, or the Wisconsin Historical Society have proven successful in the past.

When and where are the NHD contests?

The National History Day program includes a progressive contest cycle open to students in grades 6-12.

  • School/Local Events: Some schools have a local event prior to the regional event. Schools hold events to recognize the achievements of all participating students. School events also serve as a way to narrow down the number of students a school can send to a regional competition, if applicable. These events are usually held in February. Learn more about hosting a school event.
  • Regional History Day Events: The seven regional events in Wisconsin are held in March and April. All events take place on a University of Wisconsin campus or school sites. Regional events are assigned based on county. Find out more about event dates and locations.
  • State Event: The state event is held at the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus. The state event is held in late April/early May.
  • National Contest: The national contest is held each June at the University of Maryland in College Park, near Washington, D.C. It is usually held the second week in June.

When do I register to participate in National History Day?
In Wisconsin, there is no official deadline for you to notify us that you intend to participate in NHD until your students register for a regional competition. Registration for regional events is generally due two to three weeks before the event. It's always a good idea, however, to notify the state office or your regional coordinator as soon as you know you are participating. They will make sure you are on the mailing list for event materials and will be happy to have the advance notification for event planning.

How can students and teachers participate in the program?
Students choose a topic related to NHD's annual theme, conduct extensive research over the course of the school year, and create performances, documentaries, papers, exhibits, and web sites that they enter in contests at the school, district, state, and national levels. There are two divisions of competition: junior (grades 6-8) and senior (grades 9-12).

  • Request curriculum materials from NHD in Wisconsin. You will get a variety of materials that will help you to learn about the program and begin integrating NHD into your curriculum, from start to finish.
  • Check out one of our workshops for educators. Making History Day Happen workshops are a perfect opportunity for interested teachers to learn more about the program and discuss implementation ideas. OR Contact us with questions about the program. The staff at the state office and regional coordinators form a network of support for NHD teachers and participating students. Check out the Regional Events section for regional event dates and contact information for regional coordinators.
  • Take a look at your curriculum, lessons, goals, standards, and objectives to see how NHD might fit in. Questions to think about:
    • What research projects are you already having your students complete? The structure and support resources of NHD may be the perfect way to take that project to the next level. What skill building activities do you already have your students complete that would feed into the NHD project? Don't think of NHD as something to do in addition to regular work. Instead, think about how it grows from the goals you already have for your classroom.
    • How does NHD fit into your school's standards and objectives for students? The NHD program and the nature of research bring together the language arts skills of reading, writing, and communication with the specific methods of historical inquiry.
    • What benefits might the competition cycle and public recognition for academic research have for your students or school?
  • Jump in and begin working with NHD in your classroom. You can start small (with a small group or club) or with an entire class. You can work with all five presentation categories or limit it to just two or three. You can work with NHD as a class project only or let your students participate in the NHD competitive cycle, too. It's up to you! OR See NHD in action at one of our seven regionals or the state event. Make sure you are on the NHD in Wisconsin e-mail newsletter list for dates, times, and location!


How can I private, parochial, or home school students participate?
National History Day is also open to students in grades 6-12 in private, parochial, and home schools. The same rules and participation guidelines apply to them as students in public schools. These students will also see the same educational benefits. The materials on this disk are the best place for these groups of students to begin participating. For students, this means reviewing the NHD in Wisconsin Student Guide.

For home school students in their first year of participation, it is especially important to read the rulebook and participation guidelines to ensure that you have the necessary information about the program and information about competitions. Make sure you contact your regional coordinator and get on the mailing list with the state office. Information about regional events is distributed electronically through this list.

How can a student be a part of NHD if their school is not currently participating?
A student can still participate in NHD even if their school does not currently participate in the program. Interested students should:

  • Seek out an adviser. The adviser can be a teacher or other adult. Ideally, students should ask a history or English teacher at their school.
  • Discuss the adviser's role. This adviser can have many different levels of involvement. The adviser can be heavily involved in the project and help the student to manage deadlines, discuss project progress, and provide feedback. On the other hand, an adviser may just make sure the appropriate forms are turned in for the student to participate in the competition. Having an open discussion of these expectations at the beginning will alleviate frustration later.
  • Discuss your goals and expectations. If your adviser is also one of your classroom teachers, it is also good to discuss any possibilities for extra credit for your project. National History Day projects can be a lot of work to do entirely outside of class.
  • Get on the mailing list. Make sure your adviser is on the mailing list for NHD in Wisconsin event information.
  • Set a schedule. Review the NHD in Wisconsin Student Guide and set a schedule for your project. Be sure to check in with your adviser as you go through the NHD process.

How is the program connected to school curriculum?
The National History Day program has been designed to assist teachers and schools in meeting several educational standards. In Wisconsin, National History Day supports the state Model Academic Standards for Social Studies. Participants will likely address many of the standards, in addition to the benefits the program has for students and teachers.

How does the NHD competitive cycle work?
Each level of the NHD competitive cycle provides students with the opportunity to share their work with peers, professionals, and community members as they compete for special awards and the opportunity to advance to the next level of competition. Students share their project and are interviewed by a panel of judges, comprised of historians, educators, librarians, etc. Projects are evaluated against the same criteria across categories and competitions. Winners in each category/division will have the opportunity to advance to the next level of competition. Learn more about the NHD competitive cycle.

How can I help my child with NHD?
Parents, teachers, and other adults play an important support role in the National History Day process. You can help in many ways, while still allowing your child to have ownership over the final project. As a general rule of thumb, adult advisers can do things with History Day students, but not for them. See more ideas about how you can be involved.

How much does it cost to be involved in National History Day?
There are several categories of costs to keep in mind when participating in NHD:

  • NHD in the Classroom: There are no fees associated with bringing the NHD program into your classroom. Classroom presentations from WHS staff and curriculum materials are free.
  • Research and Project Creation Costs: Photocopy costs, photo printing, materials needed to create exhibit, costumes, props, software, etc.
  • Travel: Travel to research institutions, travel to levels of competition.
  • Registration Fees: Fees for regional and state contests are generally low (approximately $5-$10/student). Registration for the national contest is more (approximately $95/student) but most students reaching this level of competition will fundraise to cover costs associated with the national contest.

Why participate in NHD?
For Students: National History Day gives participants the skills needed for a successful future. History Day is unique from other academic enrichment opportunities because of the variety of skills it teaches. These include critical and creative thinking, research and analysis, verbal and written communication skills, time management, and problem-solving.

For Teachers: The National History Day program provides teachers with an innovative tool to teach important skills in a fun and engaging format. NHD requires students to take on the role of a historical detective. Participants must delve into primary sources, develop original historical conclusions, and present their work in a creative forum. In short, National History Day is designed to revolutionize the teaching and learning of history.

Why participate in the competition cycle?
Participation in the NHD competition cycle is an optional component to the program, however, many teachers choose to incorporate these events into their History Day programs. Historians, educators, and professionals in related fields evaluate students' work at each stage of competition and provide encouragement and constructive feedback. Students who proceed from one level of competition to the next are encouraged to use this feedback to strengthen their work.

National History Day events provide the public recognition and community interaction that keep students motivated and intellectually engaged. Sharing a project is the culminating activity that makes NHD an authentic learning experience and demonstrates to peers, parents, colleagues, and administrators real student achievement. The evaluation process also reinforces the instruction provided by the classroom teacher. Professionals who judge at regional, state, and national events become part of the instructional team. In addition, students learn not only from judges' evaluations, but also from one another as they interact and view one another's entries in a positive and energetic atmosphere.

Would participation In History Day make too many demands on my time and energy?
Teachers already work long hours. It is understandable that they would want to look closely at any new project before committing themselves to it. Keep in mind, however, that it is possible to participate in History Day at varying levels of intensity. Some teachers have only a few students involved; others involve whole classes. Still others get "hooked" on History Day. They have many students participate and still find time to serve on their regional steering committee that helps plan and implement the History Day program. The degree of commitment of these people is living testimony to the value of the program.

As you make your decision about how you wish to participate in History Day consider the following points:

  • As a social studies teacher, historical instruction is one of your paramount responsibilities. History Day facilitates historical instruction of the most fundamental kind. Furthermore, because of its multi-disciplinary character, it also improves student skills in writing, dramatic presentation, documentary presentation, or visual imagery, depending upon which mode the student chooses. The decision about how to present the results of research calls into play the student's creative powers.
  • The students do the work. The teacher is an adviser, a coach, and a facilitator. These roles can be as much as the teacher chooses to make them.
  • Even if you cannot commit a great deal of time to the program, just getting students involved in it is worthwhile. The contest process itself is instructive. Judges at regional, state and national contests make valuable suggestions to contestants on how to improve their entries. Students learn from each other and from one another's projects. The librarians, archivists, museum professionals and other judges become a part of the learning experience as they give students additional guidance.
  • You may be able to recruit community volunteers to help you with your program. Parents of History Day students are sometimes willing to donate time and energy.
  • If you feel you need help with your program, experience History Day teachers and the staff members at the Wisconsin Historical Society are eager to help. Just call the state coordinator and we will connect you with the right resources!

(Content adapted from material developed by the Washington State Historical Society.)

How do I persuade my students to participate?
Some teachers announce History Day to their classes and ask how many would like to participate. A number of students may show some interest and the teacher gives them the material and hopes they will come up with something. This procedure usually does not work. History Day is an interesting and exciting competition, but students already have many interesting and exciting things in their lives, and they often respond to that which is nearest in space and time.

History Day is a coaching activity and the teacher is the coach. Students need encouragement, deadlines, and a little prodding to keep them on task. Many successful History Day teachers incorporate the History Day entry into regular course work. Some make it a class assignment. Students do not have to enter the contest but they do have to produce an entry according to History Day specifications. Other teachers make the History Day entry a class option, for which students receive credit in lieu of or in addition to other term assignments.

Successful teachers integrate history projects into their regular curriculum and make the creation of an exhibit, performance, documentary presentation, website, or research paper a requirement in their social studies or language arts courses. They establish a schedule in their classrooms, and specific dates are given for the selection of a topic, completion of research, production of the entry, etc. The teacher monitors the students' activity to make sure that progress is being made. Such interest communicates to the student that History Day is important and that he or she should be working on their project throughout the year.

Let parents know what is going on, what History Day is all about. They may take an interest and add their own encouragement of the students' effort. Remember, someone--teacher or parent--must help students, especially the younger ones, contact libraries, museums, archives, etc., to locate materials they need in their research.

(Content adapted from material developed by the Washington State Historical Society.)

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