Watch this video to discover how to energize your students this year through participation in the exciting National History Day competition.
National History Day held every year in June at the University of Maryland College Park is a wonderful opportunity for student to engage in an academic competition. Last year 600,000 students took part, along with 25,000 teachers. Tens of thousands of volunteers—lawyers, journalists, archivists, historians, curators, educators, and others—serve as judges at the program’s local, state, and national contests. National History Day participants come from all fifty states, Washington, D.C., Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Defense Department schools overseas, and international schools in China, South Korea, and Indonesia.
Every fall, students start research on historical topics of their own choosing within a broad theme—this year it is “rights and responsibilties in history.” Making choices about the topic and their research, which must include primary sources, “allows them to take ownership of learning; it makes learning an exciting endeavor,” say the director Cathy Gorn. Some students start in sixth grade and participate every year, she adds. “We had one who said, ‘history is not my favorite subject, but I love History Day.’”
Students also have to decide how to best present their findings. National History Day “started from the science-fair model, with the choice of doing a paper or an exhibit,” says Gorn. “We added documentaries, live performances, and, more recently, websites.” The variety helps students see that “history works in all kinds of fields, from Ken Burns documentaries to museums.” With the inclusion of a website option, “there was a big jump in participation, because teachers got other kids interested. And, lo and behold, they produced the websites, and they learned history, too.”
The National Endowment for the Humanities has been a supporter of National History Day since the program began in 1965. NEH grants were instrumental in helping National History Day grow from a pilot start-up project in Ohio into a national program that now operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and in international schools in China, Korea and South Asia.
This year for the first time the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded prizes to students who incorporated into their projects research using Chronicling America, the free online database of 5 million pages of historic US newspapers dating from 1836 to 1922, digitized through a partnership between NEH and the Library of Congress. To accompany the new prize category, EDSITEment, NEH’s educational website, also created a set of online resources around Chronicling America to assist students and educators in using the newspapers in historical research.