Type of Projects
Documentaries are a great option for topics that have a wide array of visual primary sources such as historical photographs, painting, drawings, or film footage. With a smartphone, access to school computers, and free online editing apps, students can create professional-looking documentaries without expensive equipment.
- Keep in mind that students must operate all camera and editing equipment.
- Draw up a storyboard of the scenes you will be shooting. (This organizer from Minnesota History Day offers an example.)
- Present a variety of panning shots, interviews, live-action, and still subjects.
- Keep track of the scenes in a notebook or on index cards to make editing easier.
- You do have to cite every image, audio clip, and video file used, so keep and regularly update a list.
- Use music to set the tone of a scene.
- Seek out royalty-free music. If you use copyright-protected music and film clips, it can limit your ability to show your film in a public setting, including Youtube.
- Use the NHD Project Checklist to make sure your project meets all the requirements of the Documentary Category.
Important: The most important aspect of any entry is its historical quality. Take care not to get so caught up in the production of a documentary that you lose sight of the historical evidence and interpretation. Documentary judges are looking for solid research, clear historical context, and a thorough analysis of the chosen topic.
Students who choose the documentary category should familiarize themselves with at least one type of presentation software. Many NHD students use QuickTime, iMovie, or Adobe Premiere. During production, students must operate all of the film and editing equipment.
For those participating in a History Day contest, please follow these guidelines to save and upload your documentary as an MP4 file.
Exhibits display visual and written information in an easy-to-understand way. Think of exhibits you’ve seen in museums.
People walking by your exhibit should be attracted to the main idea and stop to learn more about the topic. A successful exhibit must balance visual interest and historical explanation. Exhibits can be interactive by asking viewers to play music, look at a video, or open a door/window to see more documents or photos.
A successful exhibit must be able to explain itself. Students explain their exhibits during initial judging but it is important to design an exhibit so that the photographs, written materials, and illustrations are easy to understand.
- Make strategic use of title and main idea labels to direct the viewer’s eye around the exhibit.
- Make labels stand out by printing titles and subtitles on light-colored paper with a dark background behind it. Good background materials include construction paper, tagboard, or mat board. Photographs and written materials will also stand out if framed with a contrasting background color.
- Choose a font that is easy-to-read and use a large font size. Bold dark black lettering in a san serif font is easiest to read.
- Be selective about what you present. Include only the most important photographs, text and graphics on your exhibit board.
- Be sure the title is the main focus of the center panel and large enough to read from a distance.
- A paper cutter makes it much easier to create straight lines as you cut out text and images.
- Effective tri-fold exhibits often use the left panel for historical context and background, center panel for the thesis and main story, and right panel for consequences. (This organizer from Minnesota History Day is very useful!)
- Artifacts or other materials maybe placed on the table between the side panels.
Use NHD Project Checklist – Exhibit to make sure your project meets all the requirements of the Exhibit Category.
A research paper involves three basic steps:
- Collect information
- Organize the information.
- Present it to the reader in a clear and interesting fashion.
The paper should consist of an introduction stating the thesis of the work, a main section addressing the theme, and a conclusion flowing logically from the thesis statement and body.
Need more information on researching and writing a history paper? Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (University of Chicago Press) is an excellent source of information on organizing your paper and citing your sources. And check out the video on Citing Your Sources – Research Paper (YouTube & Vimeo).
Read the Student Contest Rule Book carefully and follow its guidelines.
- Make sure the paper is long enough but not too long. It must be between 1500 and 2500 words, or approximately six to ten pages.
- A strong history paper does more than tell a story; it makes an argument.
- What does the evidence suggest?
- Why does this story matter?
- What change resulted from these events?
- What is the point?
- What is the significance?
Ray Karras’s “Writing Essays That Make Historical Arguments” explains the difference between descriptive and interpretive writing. All papers need a strong narrative, but authors also need to offer interpretation to guide their readers.
Papers must have an annotated bibliography divided into primary and secondary sources. Alphabetized entries need to be in the correct bibliographic form. The entries should be in alphabetical order and correct bibliographic form.
- Cite only sources actually used in researching the paper. If you read a book or article but do not use it in the paper, then the source should not be included in the bibliography.
- Be careful about using a large number of pictures or maps. If you use too many, the judges may think you should have chosen a different category.
Papers should include footnotes. Footnotes explain where a writer got an idea or quotation, giving credit to the originator. Footnotes also serve as evidence in support of a student’s ideas. Check out the video on Citing Your Sources – Annotated Bibliography (YouTube & Vimeo).
Use NHD Project Checklist – Historical Paper to make sure your project meets all the requirements of the Historical Paper Category.
For tips on getting started and examples of Historical Papers, visit National History Day.
The Performance Category can be one of the most exciting ways to participate in History Day. Entries in this category must have dramatic appeal, but not at the expense of historical information.
- Make effective use of the 10-minute time allowance.
- Choose a topic of personal interest that will work well as a performance.
- Decide whether the topic is most effective as a group or as an individual performance.
- While researching the topic, record important facts or quotes which might be important to the performance.
- Write a thesis statement, supporting statements, and a conclusion. Think about how these might become a part of the performance. If possible, state your thesis more than once during your performance.
- Prepare a script. Brainstorm about general ideas and the ways they might be presented. If a group is performing, each member should describe different ways that the characters might interact. When writing the script, make sure it contains references to the historical evidence found in the research. (These graphic organizers from Minnesota History Day — Idea Map and Scene Planning — are very helpful!)
- Include actual dialogue, quotations, and excerpts from speeches to add realistic historical detail to your performance. Remember that the script should center on the thesis statement, supporting statements, and conclusion.
- Be careful not to present an oral report on historical figures beginning with their birth and end when they die. Instead, become that historical figure! Write a script around an important turning point that can provide your audience a window onto a critical moment that highlights your major ideas.
- Prepare the set. Think about different types of sets which might help in depicting the topic. Is there a prop that is central to the story?
Important: Don’t get carried away with props. Content is the most important factor, and any props used should be directly related to the theme. Remember that performers have only five minutes to set up and take down their props.
- Prepare the costuming. Good costumes help make a performer convincing, but be sure they are appropriate to the time period. (No smart watches!) Consult photographs or costume guides if unsure about appropriate dress.
- Prepare the blocking. To block a performance is to determine where the actors will stand, move, and/or relate to the set. Students should think about these movements when deciding what type of set to design.
- Practice, practice, practice! Work on the delivery, speaking clearly and pronouncing all words correctly. Practice voice projection so that the judges and the audience can hear every word. Practice with the set and full costumes as often as possible.
Use NHD Project Checklist – Performance to make sure your project meets all the requirements of the Performance Category.
Your website should show your website design ability and your comfort with computer technology. But most importantly your website should explain your topic’s significance in history.
Your website should include
- Web pages interconnected by hyperlinks
- Primary and secondary sources
- Historical analysis
- Interactive multimedia, text, photographs, maps, and/or music
To enter a History Day contest, your website must be built using NHDWebCentral. Complete instructions on how to create an account, getting started, and building a website are available in the new NHDWebCentral Instruction Guide.
- Review other historical websites — NHD websites and websites hosted by museums, universities, and historians — to gather ideas for your own website.
- Websites are a good choice for a topic that has many different kinds of primary evidence. Consider newspaper articles, political cartoons, maps, government documents, letters, historical paintings, drawings, and photographs. You can also include up to 3 minutes of multimedia: popular songs, video footage, sounds, oral history interview clips, etc.
- Be selective about what you present. Include only the most important images, media, and text should appear on your website.
- Your first few days using NHDWebCentral may be difficult. Experienced website students strongly recommend that you use the NHD WebCentral Instruction Videos. Likewise, students recommend planning each web page using a program like Google Doc or Word before you build the page in NHDWebCentral.
- When you use a cartoon, video clip, in your website, remember to give a source credit in your website *and* cite the source in your annotated bibliography.
- “Save” constantly as you are building. Frequent saving will make NHDWebCentral less buggy and prone to problems.
- Take great care in deleting files from your image library. Here is the tricky part: if you delete an image from your library, you may not immediately notice the problem. Your browser cache may fill in the image, making it seem like the deleted file did not matter. But anyone logging in on a different browser will see broken links.
- Use the highest-resolution version of a photograph or graphic available. Once you have an image of a source or photo that you wish to use, upload that file to https://images.google.com/ Select the tiny camera icon and upload a file of the image you plan to use. You will often find a clearer, less blurry version of that source!
Use NHD Project Checklist – Website to make sure your project meets all the requirements of the Website Category.