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Getting Started

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 2014/2015 school year, the NHD rule book revised 2014/2015 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.


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
Interest: Native Americans
Topic: Treaty Rights
Issue: 1788 Fort Schuyler Treaty

See more examples...

More topic ideas on this year's theme, Rights and Responsibilities in History.

Sample Topics

  • The Three Leaders: Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour and the Unification of Italy
  • A Duty to Protect Children: The Children's Bureau
  • Pancho Villa: Leading Northern Mexico
  • Nelson Mandela and the Fight for Equality in South Africa
  • Linking Europe, Africa, and Asia: Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Construction of the Suez Canal
  • China’s Terracotta Army: The Legacy of Qin Shi Huang
  • Opha Mae Johnson: Leading the Way for Women in the Marine Corps
  • Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev: Leading the World Out of the Cold War
  • Globalization of McDonalds: American Corporations Leading the World’s Economy