An extraordinary system of cultural and historical resources.

History Day Getting Started

Getting Started with History Day

National History Day is a fun way to learn about the past, design a creative project, and possibly win scholarships or other prizes. Once you decide to participate in National History Day, what's your next step?

  1. Read all the requirements carefully before beginning the history research project, including the Contest Rule Book. In Idaho, students in grades 4-12 can compete in the following three different age divisions:  Youth (grades 4-5), Junior (grades 6-8), and Senior (grades 9-12).  All three age categories compete at the regional and, if they advance, state contest levels.  Only Junior and Senior age division winners can advance to the national contest.

  2. Every year the National History Day office selects an annual theme for the contest.  Check for this year's current theme.  All student projects must relate to the theme.

  3. Determine if you want to do an individual or group project.  Individual students work alone.  Groups consist of two to five students who work as a team.  Papers are the only category where students must work as individuals, the remaining four categories can be entered as individual or group entries.

  4. Select a topic that interests you.  It can be a family, local, state, regional, national, or world topic.  Remember that your project must reflect this year's theme and be focused on history.  For example, you can research vaccines but make certain your project centers more on the history and impact of vaccines rather than on the science of their development or how they work. The home page of this website (click here) has lists of suggested topics related to this year's theme.

  5. Research your chosen topic.  Be certain to use primary and secondary resources.  A primary source is a direct record of some time or event in the past such as a diary, autobiography, or photograph.  A secondary source is an account of the past created by someone who was not present at the event, such as a text book, encyclopedia, or biography. Click here for numerous resources to help you research your topic. 

  6. Select the type of project you want to do. There are 5 categories to choose from: documentary exhibit, historical paper, performance, or website.  

  7. Create your project.  Be creative and pay attention to every detail, but remember the historical research should be the focus of the project. History Day display

  8. Complete your Annotated Bibliography.  An annotated bibliography lists your sources along with a few sentences describing the information from that source and how you used it.  The annotated bibliography needs to be split into primary and secondary source categories. NHD has partnered with NoodleTools, a free resource, to help you prepare your annotated bibliography. Click here for more information about this important entry requirement on the NHD website. 

  9. Write your Process Paper.  A process paper describes how you decided on your topic, the research you did, and how you created your project.  A process paper is not a summary of the information in your project.  

  10. Register and enter your project in the appropriate regional contest.

Have fun and good luck!

Parents' Role

Preparing a National History Day project is a very involved task for a student.  Parental support is welcomed and encouraged.  Students need to research and analyze their topic to create an outstanding project. They often need parental help.  For example, a student might locate a primary source at a state library or historic site and need transportation. 

Parents may:
  • Encourage project progress
  • Be a sounding board for ideas
  • Help narrow the focus of their topic
  • Provide access to resources such as internet access or transportation to research institutions
  • Assist with creating a timeline to avoid the last minute scramble
  • Help with tools (drills, hammers, and saws) that the student is not old enough or physically capable of safely using.  Students must design the exhibits/props/graphics and construct the project on their own. 
  • A National History Day project must be the work of the student - during the judging process it will become apparent if it is not. For more detailed information on assisting with student projects, see the Contest Rule Book.
  • Students and parents do not have to spend a great deal of money to produce an entry – very simple, low cost but well designed and researched projects will do just as well or better than costly designs.
  • Parents are encouraged to volunteer at the regional and state contests. You can be a building monitor, runner, or help with check in. Contact the regional or state coordinator if you are interested!