Education & Outreach

A Guide for Creating a Top-Notch History Day Entry!

The most important ingredients when creating your National History Day entry are what we Iowans call "The History Day 6." Judges, teachers, and members of the audience will be impressed if they see that your entry demonstrates these six critical factors:

  • Analysis and Interpretation
  • Significance and Impact
  • Substantive Research
  • Historical Accuracy
  • Historical Context
  • Adherence to the Theme

Analysis and Interpretation

One of the most crucial features of a good History Day entry is high quality analysis and interpretation. Through your presentation, written materials, and answers to questions, you should show your judges you have developed your own conclusions about your historical topic. What is the main argument you want to make in your presentation? How are your thoughts about the subject distinct from those of primary observers or other historians? Use the other five keys to History Day in order to show your analysis and interpretation!

Significance and Impact

You can demonstrate high-quality analysis and interpretation by paying close attention to the significance and impact of your topic in history. Make sure your entry emphasizes how history was changed or affected because of the subject you've studied. How are our lives today different because of the actions of the people you have researched? What are the long-term effects of your subject in history? It is also a good idea to make significance and impact a part of your thesis statement—the main point you want your audience to take from your presentation.

Research

The key to any good National History Day entry is top-notch research. Good research is necessary before you can work on the rest of the History Day 6. Three things to remember about your research: Make it primary, wide-ranging, and balanced. NHD encourages students to delve into primary sources in order to draw their own conclusions from the evidence of first-hand observers. If primary sources are available, then you have a responsibility to track them down. Depending on the topic you are researching, it is often easy to get newspaper articles from the time period or something published by the person you are studying. Oral history interviews, photographs or artifacts, diaries, letters, or original news footage are other great primary sources. Be careful not to confuse primary and secondary sources!!! It is also important that your research be wide-ranging and balanced. You need a solid base in the secondary sources before your primary research will make sense. Consider diversity in source types—books, journal articles, interviews, etc.—to demonstrate wide research.  Balance is shown by demonstrating that you have researched and understand alternative perspectives (although you often will not agree with all the perspectives that you find). For example, an entry related to slavery should explain why slaveholders wanted to protect their economic and social system (although you probably don't agree with those views).

Historical Accuracy

If you have completed detailed research, it will not be hard to make your entry historically accurate. But, you should be careful to avoid making hasty generalizations in your entry that aren't based on research. If you refer to other periods of time in your presentation, make sure what you say is fact, not just your assumption. Another pointer for performers, make sure your props fit the time period. Don't use a WWII military uniform for a Civil War era presentation just because it looks old!

Historical Context

Your presentation will have more impact on your audience if you make it clear how your topic fits into historical context. How did the political, social, cultural, and intellectual atmosphere during the time period affect your subject? Also, explain what happened before and after your subject so that we can see how your topic relates to other events history?

Adherence to the Theme

Your judges will assume you do not understand how your topic fits the theme unless you tell them! Even when the connection seems obvious, you should make a clear and explicit effort to tell them how your subject relates to the theme. When creating your History Day entry, remember that your job is to convince your audience that this subject is undeniably connected to the annual theme.

Other Helpful Hints

  • Proofread all written materials painstakingly!!!! Misspellings and grammatical errors are a chronic problem for National History Day entries! After you think you've caught all the errors, have a parent or teacher go over the materials again.
  • Do oral history interviews and interviews with historians. When you've completed your entry, have these people view your presentation to offer more advice.
  • Present your History Day entry to several people (including teachers, parents, historians, and other students) to get their feedback on how you could improve. Be sure to ask if there are any spots where they get confused and if they understand your main points.
  • Practice your answers to judges' questions in front of your teacher, parents, historians, or others. It will help you avoid the jitters and offer articulate and meaningful responses when the real time comes!
  • Be sure to obey all general contest and category-specific rules; you don't want to be caught with a silly rule infraction!
  • Remember that content is what is most important. Don't get carried away with glitz.
  • Do take a research field trip to a university library or historical society. You can also get good interviews while you're there.
  • Include in your annotation of primary materials a description of why you considered the source to be primary. It will help you avoid misplacing sources, and will help judges understand why you considered the source to be primary. (See Contest Rule Book, pgs. 4-5, for the definition of primary and secondary sources.)
  • If you are working in a group, demonstrate effective collaboration. Spread the research and presentation work evenly.
  • Check out your presentation site or do a dress rehearsal before the real thing. It will help you avoid last-minute catastrophes and you will appear more confident.

Finally ... Show Your Enthusiasm!!

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