Who We Are

National Office Staff
Board of Trustees
Advisory Council
NHD Honorary Cabinet
Our Founder
National Office Staff

Cathy Gorn, PhD
Executive Director

Dr. Cathy Gorn is executive director of National History Day.

Dr. Gorn joined National History Day in 1982 when the organization was still based in Cleveland, Ohio, and was in its infancy as a national endeavor. Dr. Gorn has held positions of increasing responsibility within the organization. As a member of a small core national office staff, her efforts have fundamentally shaped the evolution of National History Day from a series of contests to a full-fledged, highly acclaimed international academic program.

Dr. Gorn received her B.A. in English from Kent State University in 1982, and her Ph.D. in history from Case Western Reserve University 1992. She has made numerous presentations on history education at forums for historians and teachers, including the National Council for the Social Studies, the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians. Her publications on teaching history to young people have appeared in several professional journals. In addition, Dr. Gorn has contributed to and served as editor for more than 40 curriculum guides and projects for National History Day.

Dr. Gorn has directed nearly three dozen national institutes for teachers of history and social studies, including institutes on: “Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom,” and “Global and Multi-Cultural Perspectives on the Columbian Voyage and Its Legacies.” Dr. Gorn currently serves on the White House Historical Association Board of Directors and the National Capital Radio & Television Museum Board of Trustees. She served two terms on the Education Advisory Committee for the First Freedom Center, the Education Committee of the American Bar Association and the Presidential Advisors for the National World War II Museum.

In 2011, National History Day received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.

Kim Fortney
Deputy Director

Kim Fortney is the deputy director of National History Day (NHD).

She joined NHD in August 2009 after 13 years with the Heritage Center of Lancaster County in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and 19 years as a member of the extended NHD family. As vice president of the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, Kim directed all aspects of educational programming for teachers, students and adults. In her position, she coordinated a thriving regional competition of National History Day and served on the advisory board for National History Day in Pennsylvania. However, her love for NHD began even earlier. While teaching in 1990, she coached students in the creation of NHD entries, and during graduate school in 1995, she judged at a regional competition.

Kim is deeply committed to history education and both formal and informal learning. She co-edited An Alliance of Spirit: Museum and School Partnerships, published by the American Alliance of Museums in 2010, and was president of the board of directors for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums from 2008-2010. Kim currently serves on the board of the American Association for State & Local History, where, as governance chair, she improved governance practices and spearheaded a comprehensive update of governing documents.

Kim has presented on numerous occasions at professional conferences, including the American Alliance of Museums, the American Association for State and Local History, the American Federation of Teachers, the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies and, the Middle States Council for the Social Studies. Kim received her M.A. in History and Museum Studies from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA), 1995, and her B.A. in History and Secondary Education from Westminster College (New Wilmington, PA), 1988. In 2013, she completed the Senior Leaders Program for Nonprofit Professionals at Columbia University.

Alaina McNaughton
Contest Manager

Lynne O'Hara
Director of Programs
Photo Credit: Chris Preperato

Lorena Torres
Finance Director

Erikka Washington
Office and Events Manager
Board of Trustees

President - Celie Niehaus

Vice President - Jon Gillum
Locke Lord LLP

Treasurer - James F. Harris
University of Maryland

Secretary - Noralee Frankel

Sarah Aschbrenner
Minnesota Historical Society

Courtney Chapin
The Better Angels Society

Kenneth Clarke

Thomas Downs
Downs Government Affairs

Steven Goldberg
Lincoln Financial

Cosby Hunt
Center for Inspired Teaching

Richard Kurin
Smithsonian Institution

Richard T. Prasse
Hahn, Loeser and Parks

Sherry Rollo
Hahn, Loeser and Parks

Dana Schaffer
American Historical Association

Kevin L. Shirley
LaGrange College

Lyric Winik

Advisory Council

Beth Boland

Michelle Anne Delaney
Smithsonian Institution

Noralee Frankel

Rich Gause
American Library Association

Julian Hipkins, III
Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School, Washington, DC

Kurt Koenigsberger
Case Western Reserve University

Grace Leatherman
National Council for History Education

Esther Mackintosh
Federation of State Humanities Councils

Elisabeth M. Marsh
Organization of American Historians

Erin Carlson Mast
President Lincoln’s Cottage

Lawrence Paska
National Council for the Social Studies

Lee Ann Potter
Library of Congress

Dana Schaffer
American Historical Association

Philip M. Soergel
University of Maryland

NHD Honorary Cabinet

Lonnie Bunch
Secretary, Smithsonian Institution

Ken Burns
Documentary Film Maker

Stockard Channing

Joseph Ellis
Professor, Mount Holyoke College

Paula Giddings
Professor, Smith College

Nancy Isenberg
Professor, Louisiana State University

Knight Kiplinger
Publisher, The Kiplinger Report

James McPherson
Emeritus Professor, Princeton University, Pulitzer Prize winner

Vicki Ruiz
Professor, University of California, Irvine

Mrinalini Sinha
Professor, University of Michigan

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Professor, Harvard University, Pulitzer Prize winner

Fareed Zakaria
Host, CNN


NHD has affiliates around the world. These programs are independently sponsored by organizations that coordinate local and state/affiliate level contests where students can compete for the chance to advance to the National Contest. NHD’s states/affiliates also provide programmatic materials and workshops for teachers and students.

Our Founder

David Van Tassel & the Origins of National History Day

On May 11, 1974, 127 students from middle and high schools in the greater Cleveland area gathered on the campus of Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio, to compete in a contest called History Day. The idea was the brainchild of David Van Tassel, a professor of history at CWRU, “to counter the devaluation of history as a field of study.” Van Tassel had witnessed a generation of young people in the 1960s caught up in events during one of the most turbulent decades in American history, who felt that past events were irrelevant to their lives and wanted to help students recognize history's impact. He was especially disturbed by the rote style of learning used in most history classrooms and “wanted to do something to reinvigorate the teaching and learning of history.”

The country was beginning to look toward the coming bicentennial in 1976 and celebration of the country’s 200th birthday. Van Tassel and his colleagues saw the renewed interest in the nation’s history as an opportunity to motivate young people to study the past and influence the way teachers were teaching history. He wanted to use a contest format to motivate students to study the past not by memorizing names and dates, but by engaging in the art of historical inquiry. Uninterested in the Spelling Bee version of competition in which students memorize information and respond to questions, Van Tassel looked to the Science Fair model in which students ask questions, conduct research, analyze information and draw conclusions.

Van Tassel wanted teachers and students to analyze and interpret history—to draw conclusions about the ways in which historical events influenced the course of human society. He believed that asking students to relate their projects to a theme would force them to think about why their topic was important in history and why their contemporaries should learn the importance of historical perspective. The theme for that first History Day contest was Ohio and the Promise of the American Revolution.

The contest was an immediate success. The following year, student participation increased by 400%. 540 students and 58 teachers from 35 schools considered topics related to the theme, The Spirit of the American Revolution. The success caused Van Tassel to seek support from the Ohio Humanities Council to take the program statewide in 1976 when the theme was Images of America: A Bicentennial Mirror of People, Places, Ideas or Events, and involved students in eleven regions around the state. By 1977, when the theme was Turning Points in History, student participation had increased to more than 1,500.

Van Tassel was a visionary. He was not one to be satisfied with local success. He saw the power of History Day and wanted to make it available to students and teachers everywhere. By the summer of 1976, he had already had a conversation with representatives at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) about support to expand into neighboring states and hold a regional contest in 1978 involving students from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. NEH awarded a planning grant of $17,500 which allowed Van Tassel to bring in representatives from the junior historians programs in Indiana and Kentucky to attend the contest in 1977. A year later he received $160,000, the theme was Energy: Its Impact on History, and nearly 3,000 students took part.

The growth of the program during those early years was rapid. As history professors and public historians learned about the program, they too wanted to get involved. Recognizing how quickly things were moving, Van Tassel applied to the State of Ohio to incorporate a non-profit organization to run and expand History Day and hired Lois Scharf as its first director. In 1979, the theme was Migrations in History, and like the theme, History Day was moving across the country, almost on its own. Only one year later, in 1980, the first national contest was held with 19 states participating.

Over 40 years and millions of students and teachers later, NHD continues to pursue the vision and mission established and cultivated by its founder, David Van Tassel. Van Tassel passed away in 2000, but his legacy lives on every year when hundreds of thousands of secondary school students around the globe make history come alive through research and analysis for their NHD projects. Whether in person or virtual, on-site or online, National History Day will continue to work with students to develop their understanding of history and ensure they are prepared to face the challenges of the future.