Picking a topic for your History Day project is the most important first step. You must make sure that your topic fits within the annual theme, that it fits the category (exhibit, documentary, etc.) you want to pursue, and that it is narrow enough so that you can tell its whole story easily.
The National Archives posts lists of topic possibilities connected to its repositories across the U.S. - Coming soon
Topic Ideas – “Rights and Responsibilities” Suggested Topics
You don’t have to use any of these topics, and we encourage you to pick a person or event in history that isn’t all that well known. For example, pick a locally famous person. Go to your local library or museum and find out who the important people are in your town’s history. We think you will be surprised to find some great stories in your own backyard. Or, if that doesn’t interest you, dig through your social studies book and find a name you don’t know. There are plenty of people who made important contributions in history that no one knows about. It is most important that you choose a topic you find fascinating. Don’t hesitate to look at areas you are interested in, even if they don’t appear to be historic. History can be found in science, sports, transportation, and fashion. History is not all about dead presidents and treaties. Research something you want to know about!
Let’s say that you decide you are drawn to the Civil Rights movement. You start looking for information in your textbook and on the internet. There is so much information that your head starts spinning! You clearly need to narrow your topic to something you can research and create a project on in a few months. So now you head to your local library and you find a book called Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 by Juan Williams. You find out that many people were involved in the movement over several years. Also, you find that there were several focused efforts in the fight for civil rights. A couple that really interest you are, say, the Birmingham Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. When you read a little more about them, you find that the Civil Rights movement affected and involved millions of people with multiple perspectives from all across the country. OK, so you may not be as interested in the Civil Rights movement as we are. That’s ok. The lesson is still an important one.
While you are narrowing your topic, it is a good idea to jot down people, places or events that get your attention. Take these ideas to your History Day advisor or teacher. He or she may be able to help you focus in on your best topic. Remember, you need to find an event that fits in well with the theme, has important historical significance, and can be developed into one of the project categories.