National History Day, a year-long educational program sponsored by the Orange County Department of Education, encourages students to explore local, state, national, and world history. After selecting a historical topic that relates to an annual theme, students conduct extensive research by using libraries, archives, museums, and oral history interviews. They analyze and interpret their findings, draw conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, and create final projects that present their work. These projects can be entered into a series of competitions, from the local to the national level, where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators.
National History Day – California, one of the largest state History Day competitions, takes place in 34 counties and reaches some 44,000 students each year, culminating in an annual state wide contest with nearly 1,000 participants. National History Day – California provides an enhanced History Day program, including the elementary student 2-dimensional display category and the web site category, which has become part of the national competition.
National History Day is open to all students in grades 4-12. All types of students participate in NHD; for example: public, private, parochial and home-school students; urban, suburban and rural students; English language learners, academically gifted and average students, and students with special needs.
National History Day is both a way to teach history and a highly regarded academic competition. Students participate locally (at the school or school district level) to reach county or regional contests. Champion entries from these county/regional contests represent their areas at National History Day – California. Champions at the state competition in the Junior and Senior Divisions advance to National History Day held at the University of Maryland each year.
Three grade-span divisions comprise the California contest:
There are two entry categories for the Elementary Division:
There are nine entry categories each for the Junior Division and the Senior Division:
Individual entries consist of one student. Group entries may have 2 – 5 students. The highest level of competition advancement for the Elementary Division is National History Day – California.
Students reach their county or regional contest through a variety of means. We recommend that you contact your county office of education for specific information.
Students choose a history topic related to NHD’s annual contest theme, conduct extensive research over the course of the school year, and create performances, documentaries, papers, exhibits, or a 2-dimensional display (for 4th and 5th grade students only), which they may enter in competition at the district and state level. Champion entries from grades 6 -12 at the state level advance to the National History Day contest at the University of Maryland.
First, students should find out if their school has an established History Day program. Some students participate through after school and scouting programs in addition to those who participate through their schools. Students simply need to find a teacher or trusted adult who would be willing to act as a sponsor for their projects. These “coaches” help students with time management and serve as mentors as students conduct research and create projects. Students do not need to register to participate in the program unless they plan on competing. Some schools have their own contests to determine who will move on to the regional contests. Regional registration forms are typically due in February. Contact your local county office of education for information regarding your county level contest and registration requirements. Top entries at each regional contest may move on to the state contest. Registration information for the state contest is online, and details will be given to the winners at the regional contests.
Nationwide, 700,000 students and 40,000 teachers annually participate in National History Day programs. More than 2,000 students from across the country attend the national contest (from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Schools and American Samoa). Over 44,000 students participate in NHD-California each year with nearly 1,000 competing at the state level contest in 20 entry categories across three grade-span divisions (elementary, junior, and senior).
The reins of National History Day – California shifted to the Orange County Department of Education in 2010. NHD-California is supported by a Leadership and Advisory Council with representatives from across the state. At present the program is self-funded with fundraising efforts underway. Our office and staff are supported by the Orange County Department of Education.
Every day is National History Day! History Day is a year-long program that culminates in a national contest in June in College Park, MD. While the annual competition gains the most notoriety, National History Day is, at its heart, a way to teach and learn history by becoming a historian. Typically, school-level contests take place in late January-early February; county/regional contests take place in early-mid March; and the state contest takes place in late April-early May. Champion entries from school-level contests advance to the county competition. This advancement cycle repeats to the contests at the state and national levels.
National History Day started as a small contest in Cleveland in 1974. Members of the history department at Case Western Reserve University developed the initial idea for a history contest to make teaching and learning history a fun and exciting experience. Students gathered on campus to devote one day to history. They called it “National History Day.” Although the name has remained the same, NHD has grown into a national organization with year-round programs and a week-long national contest.
History Day is much more than a contest; it is reforming the way history is taught and learned. The contest and program provides teachers with an innovative teaching tool and fosters students’ enthusiasm for learning. In addition to the contest, NHD offers teacher workshops, summer student academies, summer teacher institutes, curricular materials and other resources for educators.
National History Day began in Cleveland in 1974 and expanded throughout Ohio and into surrounding Midwestern states. In 1980 it became a national program. In 1992 National History Day moved its headquarters to the University of Maryland at College Park. The Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles sponsored the history day program and contest in California from 1985 – 2010. National History Day selected the Orange County Department of Education as the new state affiliate in 2010.
Extensive research is a hallmark of National History Day projects. Primary sources are considered especially valuable as they are firsthand reflections of the historical period, event, and individual(s) being researched. These require the most interpretation and analysis.
A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment. The purpose of primary sources is to capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.
Examples of primary sources include documents, artifacts, historic sites, songs, or other written and tangible items created during the historical period you are studying.
A secondary source is a source that was not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era. Secondary sources are usually created by historians, but based on the historian’s reading of primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written decades, if not centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue. The purpose of a secondary source is to help build the story of your research from multiple perspectives and to give your research historical context.
An example of a secondary source is Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson, published in 1988. Secondary sources are a great starting point in helping you see the big picture. Understanding the context of your topic will help you make sense of the primary sources that you find. The primary and secondary sources McPherson used are listed in his bibliography. Another researcher might consult these same primary sources and reach a different conclusion.
Tertiary sources are based on a collection of primary and secondary sources and may or may not be written by an expert. Tertiary sources should never appear in your bibliography but are only used as exploratory sources, to give you ideas about what to research. Wikipedia is not a reliable source and should not be utilized or appear in your bibliography.
As you may be aware, the Board of Directors and Dr. Cathy Gorn, Executive Director of National History Day (nhd.org) have made a change in the leadership of National History Day – California. This new direction is designed to establish a “shared leadership model” among County Office and school district coordinators from across the state who are passionate about continuing to expand and improve NHD-CA.
We hope that you will support NHD-CA and the incredibly talented and deserving students who so greatly benefit from your generosity. We would be most honored to extend your legacy of contributions.
We appreciate your recognition of students for their hard work on exemplary history/social science projects. It is because of recognition by organizations such as yours that California students are motivated to always exceed expectations and contribute their excellent work to the NHD program.