History Day – and why it matters

It’s spring – and that means across the country thousands of teens are putting the final touches on their National History Day presentations.

What is History Day?

National History Day is an exciting opportunity for middle and high school students to engage with the past. They develop their own topics around a broad theme that changes each year. The 2016 theme is: “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange.” Students conduct their own research, with heavy emphasis on the use of primary sources. They analyze and interpret their findings, and their work culminates in a final project in one of the following forms: research paper, documentary video, dramatic performance, museum-type exhibit, or website. Depending on the category, students can work alone or in small groups. Students compete with others in their same general age range or grade level.

Ten Reasons History Day Rocks!

  1. It’s fun!  – Students bring and generate energy and enthusiasm for their topics, the research process, and the final outcome.
  2. It’s self-directed – Students select their own topics, and choose how to connect their subject to the contest theme.
  3. It’s challenging – Students learn to ask hard questions of sources, their teachers, and each other.
  4. It’s social – Students meet others with similar interests, learn from each other, and encourage one another.
  5. It’s inspiring – Students have a knack for finding interesting stories and presenting them in intriguing, creative, and thought-provoking ways.
  6. It’s engaging – History Day goes beyond rote dates and “facts” found in dry textbooks – and makes the past come alive. Suddenly, history is exciting again!
  7. It improves skills – Overall skills in research, critical thinking, and writing improve across all of a student’s work – not just in history class.  Technical skills such as set design, costuming, videography, web design, and others also find expression and development through History Day projects. Self-confidence grows, as does intellectual curiosity, teamwork, and social skills.
  8. Quality is rewarded – As students advance further in the contest, they find they must constantly revise and improve their work as the competition stiffens. This teaches ongoing critical thinking skills, editing, and objective assessment of their own work.
  9. There’s prizes! -Students compete at school, local, regional and state levels, before advancing to the National finals. At various levels, but particularly at the state and national levels, students may win special awards, often cash, sponsored by History Day alumni, corporate sponsors, or professional organizations; or gain other forms of recognition. Of course, the best prize of all is to advance to the next level of competition.
  10. And even scholarships! – The University of Maryland at College Park, Case Western Reserve University, and Chaminade University of Honolulu all offer scholarship prizes.
    And let me add Reason #11 — just for teachers!
  11. Teachers can win, too! – A few special prizes are awarded to teachers who exhibit leadership and encouragement to their students.

How You Can Get Involved

State and regional competitions are underway now! Contact your state coordinator and learn how you can volunteer, serve as a judge, or provide other support.

Some students may be in need of financial assistance, particularly if they advance to the national competition in Maryland in June. National History Day does not provide financial support, so most families must foot the bill themselves. Watch for students in your area to hold fundraisers or online campaigns, and contribute generously. NHD also accepts donations to aid in its operations and to get more classrooms and teachers involved in the contest.

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