Resources for Students

Students show their North Carolina pride at the 2013 National History Day contest. Image courtesy Patrick Schneider Photography.

Getting Started

A great history day project is not one that simply lists events and people - it explains the "so what." Why did a particular event make a difference in the lives of others? What situations and circumstances did it change or impact?

Your project must show that you have looked at more than one side of an issue; that you have analyzed the research materials; and that you have drawn your own conclusions. Have a clear thesis statement and restate it in varied ways throughout your project. Also, make a clear connection between your thesis and this year's theme.

To help you succeed with your work, we've outline a few tips for getting started below. 

Read the Rules

You should read the rules several times before you start. Once you have your project underway, you should continue to read them. Usually judges will be more lenient about violations in the early competitions, but in the end, the students who followed the rules will have the edge. 

If you have questions about specific rules, contact the state coordinator.

Download the NEW Rule Book 

The rule book changed for the 2020-21 school year.  If you are familiar with the old rules, check out the guide below for a summary of significant rule changes for the upcoming year.  However, we highly recommend that you read the new rule book to make sure you are following the rules correctly.

Summary of Significant Rule Changes

Explore the Annual Theme

As long as your teacher has not set rules for your topic choice, the only guidelines for choosing your research topic is that it connects to the annual theme. The 2020-21 school year's theme is "Communication in History: The Key to Understanding."  A strong National History Day topic will tie to this theme and the connection to it will be clear throughout your project.  Watch the video below and explore the annual theme book to get topic ideas. Make sure you select a topic that fascinates you and connects. Before finalizing your choice, check with your teacher to make sure there are no additional classroom requirements for picking your topic. 

If you have questions about the theme or need help connecting your topic to it, contact the state coordinator.

 

Current Theme Book 

Theme Organizer Worksheet 

N.C. History Topic Ideas for 2021 Theme

Get Tips Specific to Your Project Type

In addition to the general advice on this page, we have pulled together some tips and resources for each specific project category to help guide you as you work.

Get Specific Advice for Each Project Type

Ask an Expert!

National History Day works with the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct the Ask an NEH Expert Series. Previous installments addressed the five National History Day categories (documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances, and websites), but the 2020 episodes focus on specific skills crucial to all NHD students, in all five NHD categories - Building an Argument, Validating Sources,  and Writing and Editing.

Ask an NEH Expert Series 

Document Your Work

Students should document their work through a process paper and annotated bibliography. Starting this school year, both of these are required for ALL project categories.

Process Papers

Your process paper is not a retelling of the information in your project. The process paper instead should briefly answer these questions:

  • How did you choose your topic and how does it relate to the annual theme? 
  • How did you conduct your research?
  • How did you create your project?
  • What is your historical argument?  
  • In what ways is your topic significant in history?

The ultimate goal for every project, regardless of category, is to include sufficient information and be organized in such a way that it will stand on its own. Someone should be able to view or read your project and understand exactly what it is you want to convey without ever talking with you.

Annotated Bibliographies

Use a variety of research materials. The strongest bibliographies will be the ones that show that students have looked at a wide variety of materials. In addition to books, magazines, and newspapers, which are readily available at area libraries, don't forget that music, artifacts, historic sites, maps, government records, radio and television programs, movies and personal interviews are also accessible and can be excellent sources.

Remember that in your annotated bibliography that sources should be sorted into two sections: Primary Sources and Secondary Sources. Watch this short video to learn more about what primary and secondary sources are and how to tell them apart:

Use the annotations in your bibliography to describe how you used the source, and how it helped you understand your topic. Annotations should be brief and no more than two or three sentences long. 

Guidance from the National Program  

Annotation Guide from Minnesota's Program

Use Critiques to Improve

History Day students are encouraged to improve their projects after each level of review. Be prepared to change your project as suggestions for improvements are offered. This is an important part of the education process.

When choosing wether to make revisions, consider the judges' comments carefully. Judging history projects involves some subjectivity. Even though your work will be evaluated by highly-qualified, educated people, they may not be right in all cases. You must decide if you think their advice is correct.

Feeling stuck?  Need extra help or feedback? Students, teachers, and parents are always welcome to contact the state coordinator, Karen Ipock, for advice or help at any step of the the NHD process. A member of the N.C. History Day team can even meet online with a student (with a teacher or parent/guardian) to discuss their project or research process.  

Contact the State Coordinator