A personal message from Cathy Gorn, Executive Director

National History Day began in April 1974 on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. The idea was the brainchild of history professor David Van Tassel, who was worried about the decline of the humanities in general and history in particular in America’s schools. Van Tassel was particularly distressed by the boring rote memorization he saw in most history classrooms.  He wanted to reinvigorate the teaching and learning of history.

He employed a contest format to motivate students to study the past—and engage in the art of historical inquiry. Van Tassel didn’t want a history-light spelling bee, instead he wanted students to ask provocative questions, conduct research, and analyze information to draw conclusions. He called it “History Day.” The name stuck, but the day turned into a year-long educational experience.

Today, in every state, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa, and international affiliates in several countries, NHD contestants become writers, filmmakers, playwrights, web designers, and artists as they create unique, contemporary expressions of history.  National History Day is a learning adventure that teaches critical thinking, writing and research skills and boosts performance across all subjects – not just history.  To facilitate this, NHD provides a framework and curriculum materials for teachers and guidance for students.

Students don’t have to be academically gifted to participate and succeed.  NHD reaches and motivates disadvantaged and special needs children, those in the middle of the pack as well as academic superstars.

Sometimes, NHD students even change the course of history. The court-martial of World War II Navy Captain Charles McVay was overturned as a result of the research conducted by an NHD student, Hunter Scott, who became a Navy helicopter pilot. Four NHD students from Kansas City, KS, discovered the forgotten story of Irena Sendler, a Holocaust heroine who saved the lives of 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto. As a result of their work, the impoverished and overlooked Sendler was recognized, memorialized, and had a trust fund established to care for her until her death.

And three 16-year-old NHD students in Illinois who produced a group documentary on the Mississippi Burning case, the murder of three Civil Rights workers in 1964, led the U.S. Congress to pass a bipartisan resolution calling on federal prosecutors to reopen the high profile case.  Because of these students’ exhaustive research – reviewing more than 2,000 documents and conducting dozens of interviews – more than 40 years later, in 2005, the FBI’s original prime suspect, Edgar Ray Killen was finally arrested, tried, and convicted of murdering James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman.

More than five million NHD students have gone on to careers in business, law, medicine, and countless other disciplines where they are putting into practice what they learned through NHD. Come and discover National History Day – more than a day, a learning experience!

Who We Are

National History Day (NHD) is a non-profit education organization in College Park, MD. Established in 1974, NHD offers year-long academic programs that engage over half a million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and affiliate levels, where the top student projects have the opportunity to advance to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. NHD also seeks to improve the quality of history education by providing professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators.

In addition to facilitating the discovery of the past, NHD also helps students develop the following attributes that are critical for future success:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills,
  • Research and reading skills,
  • Oral and written communication and presentation skills,
  • Self-esteem and confidence, and
  • A sense of responsibility for and involvement in the democratic process.

Contact us for additional information about NHD!

Introduction to National History Day

This video, produced by HISTORY® at the 2008 National Contest, provides an introduction to NHD for students, teachers, and parents who are interested in participating in NHD programs.