History research meets creativity — National History Day Contest

Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

Most students are probably not familiar with contests in the History subject. Today, Thinktown will introduce to you a widely recognized history contest with over 500,000 middle to high school participants from around the world — National History Day (NHD).

Founded in 1974, NHD is a non-profit educational organization established by the University of Maryland — College Park. It aims to improve the instruction quality of teachers and the learning efficiency of students. The NHD provides annual academic research programs for middle school and high school students, and over 500,000 students take part each year. These students would pick a topic to do research on and use innovative methods to showcase their findings. Those who participate in the NHD will be learning about many different disciplines such as sociology, science, technology, language, arts, theater and special education.

About the contest

NHD releases historic topics every fall, and participants are supposed to conduct a history research within the time frame of a year. By diving deep into historic materials, they need to arrive at meaningful conclusions with historical significance. Participants can showcase their results in various forms such as essays, performances, exhibitions, documentaries, websites and so on. These presentations will then go through the local selection process in their respective region of submission every spring by historians and educators, and the outstanding pieces will be sent to the University of Maryland for the national contest in June every year.

  • Categories: Essays, performances, documentaries, exhibitions, websites
  • Groups: Junior: 6–8 Graders; Senior: 9–12 Graders
  • Rules: Individual or in teams of five. The essay option is only open to individual participants.
  • Date: Final: June 2021; Regionals: Spring 2021
  • Theme: The 2021 theme is “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding”
  • Grading Criteria: Historical Quality: 80%, Clarity of Presentation: 20%

Why you should consider NHD

1. Improving academic skills

In addition to awards and certificates, the most important thing about the NHD is that it allows students to hone their academic research skills and gain new knowledge during their year of research. A 2011 survey showed that students who participated in the NHD were significantly ahead of their peers in reading, mathematics and other subjects. In the process of conducting independent research, students practice their critical thinking, problem-solving, research and reading skills, establishing their personal identity and self-confidence. These are the skills valued by top colleges and universities, and they will benefit students throughout their lives.

2. Boosting your college application

The NHD is a renowned contest. If you can get an award or certificate, it will definitely be a bonus for your university application. At the same time, the insights and growth gained during the year-long independent research can undoubtedly become a unique piece of material for your application essay.

Past Winners

2020: Breaking Barriers in History

The 2020 Junior Individual first place went to Allison Reed from Kansas. She made a documentary with the title of “All the World Loves a Baby — Breaking the Two Pound Barrier”. She documented how Dr. Martin Courney at the beginning of the 20th century called for everyone to use the premature baby incubator and her efforts in setting up a series of controversial exhibitions for premature babies. Allison used a large number of historical images to help her audience relive events. She also recorded first-hand interview audio to support the accuracy of historical data, highlighted the historical environment through details in literary works, and mentioned the opinions of people in different fields in the voice-over to show multiple perspectives.

2019: Triumph & Tragedy

The 2010 Senior Individual first place went to Abigail from Minnesota for her website, which was designed around the theme “Stomaching America: Tragedies and Triumphs of the Jungle”. The homepage of the website is an introduction to the general background: increased immigration and industrial advancements at the turn of the 20th century nurtured the United States’ Second Industrial Revolution and exacerbated dangerous working conditions. Calling public attention to these issues, investigative journalist Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle”, published in 1906, recounting dangerous substances in meat products, deplorable slaughterhouse working conditions, and corrupt practices of Chicago’s beef trust.

Triumph: This book inspired legislators to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, which provided much-needed food safety regulations and controlled the beef trust.

Tragedy: Sinclair’s pleas to address workers’ conditions tragically continue to remain ignored.

Abigail conducted in-depth research on “The Jungle”, interviewed three experts in different fields who had personal experience with this topic, and made a special trip to Chicago to experience the real working environment in the industry. The integration of first-hand and second-hand data, a large number of video materials, various reports and quotes, paragraphs from the book, etc., are displayed progressively on the website. She also included interactive communication with users for better experience.


Now that you have a clear understanding of the NHD contest, are you also eager to try it out? If you want to continue practicing your critical thinking in history research, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more learning and competition resources!

Be true to education; be true to yourself.