Teacher's Guide

Preparing for National History Day

National History Day and National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar Medals.
Photo caption

National History Day and National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar Medals.

"In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind." 

— Edmund Burke 

National History Day makes history come alive for students by engaging them in the discovery of the historic, cultural, and social experiences of the past. Our collection of resources is designed to assist students and teachers as they prepare their NHD projects and highlights the long partnership that has existed between the National Endowment for the Humanities and National History Day. This Teacher's Guide provides resources for the current theme, tips and advice on conducting research to complete any NHD project type, and access to materials from previous themes and NEH/NHD programming. 

Building A More Perfect Union Lesson Book

The National Endowment for the Humanities and National History Day created the Building a More Perfect Union lesson book as part of the NEH’s special initiative to advance civic education and the study of U.S. history and culture in preparation for the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The two essays and fifteen lessons include primary sources, compelling and guiding questions, inquiry-based activities, opportunities to consider multiple and competing perspectives, and supplementary materials available at EDSITEment. The complete Building a More Perfect Union lesson plan book is available for free download here and at NHD’s site for the 250th. EDSITEment's Building A More Perfect Union media resource page includes the essays and lessons, as well as supplemental materials, lessons, and resources for including themes related to "a more perfect union" across civics and U.S. history curricula. 

Guiding Questions

How has technology transformed how we communicate and what has this meant for history?

What have debate and diplomacy produced in history?

What qualifies an event as a turning point in history?

How have conflicts been transformed into compromises across history?

To what extent have those who have taken a stand inspired change?

What factors contributed to the event or action you are investigating?

The NEH and NHD: Partners for History

National History Day began at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1974 and the National Endowment for the Humanities has funded and partnered with National History Day since 1976. Each year, the NEH awards special prizes, and top projects are recognized with a NEH/NHD Scholar medal. 

The Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers Prize is awarded in both the Junior and Senior divisions to an outstanding entry in any category that utilizes the newspaper resources that are available through Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. EDSITEment offers research ideas and a feature on special collections included in Chronicling America at our Chronicling America Teacher's Guide.



The National Endowment for the Humanities produced "In the Field" series included an episode on National History Day to tell the story of how NHD began, and give students space to share why they enjoy the NHD competition and what they take away from participating. 

EDSITEment has also partnered with the Smithsonian Learning Lab to create collections of resources and questions to assist students with the relevant NHD themes and development of research skills. You will find collections from the past few years through the drop down menus below and at the Learning Lab Collections created for NHD.

For its outstanding work over the years and across the country, the National History Day organization received the National Humanities Medal in 2011.

Chronicling America and National History Day

Each year at the National History Day competition the National Endowment for the Humanities awards the Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers Prize in both the Junior and Senior divisions to an outstanding entry in any category that utilizes the newspaper resources that are available through the Chronicling America database.

You may already know about Chronicling Americathe long-standing partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provides free access to millions of digitalized pages of America’s historic newspapers. Users can search and view newspaper pages from 1770–1963 and find information about American newspapers published between 1690–present using the National Digital Newspaper Program. EDSITEment offers research ideas and a feature on using special collections included within Chronicling America at our Chronicling America Teacher's Guide.

Curating Content for the Classroom: The Problem of Bias

Reading old newspapers opens a window into a world with a multiplicity of values, many of which are sharply different from ours. The unfiltered news and commentary of yesterday holds wonders but also requires a teacher’s sharp editorial guidance to be most effective. The existence of racial or gender bias in articles or advertisements that would have raised no concern back in the day, may make modern students or their parents uncomfortable. Be prepared to encounter such moments and to use them to help students understand their own beliefs and values, as well as to learn how complex an encounter with real history is. To assist you in this process, we have linked to a short guide to teaching sensitive material.

Moreover, most historic papers were affiliated with a particular political party and consequently have a strongly partisan editorial policy, in the literal sense. Happily through the tools available, students can easily learn about—and from—the distinctive perspectives of these newspapers. Chronicling America makes it relatively easy to discover the history and political profile of the paper under examination by way of the “about” section that accompanies almost every newspaper title.

For example, the “about” section of The Toiler gives a fascinating “biography” of the “Official Organ of the Communist Labor Party of Ohio.” Though short lived, it was merged with another title to form what became known as the Daily Worker, the Communist Party of America’s national paper. For an introduction to the partisanship of 19th- and early 20th-century newspapers and an interesting argument about the positive side of this partisanship, see the article "The Fall and Rise of Partisan Journalism."

Teaching Diverse Perspectives with Historic Newspapers

Special collections of newspapers serving particular identities and interests are an especially exciting and revelatory part of Chronicling America. IrishLatin American, and Jewish newspapers have now been joined by a significant number of German language newspapers and newspapers serving Indigenous communities

Most impressively, there are now more that one hundred African American newspapers from thirty states and the District of Columbia. South Carolina alone is represented by eleven papers! These papers allow us to trace the daily lives and opinions of Black people from the days of Emancipation and Reconstruction through the establishment of Jim Crow, World War I, and the Great Migration.

A feature essay on using these newspaper collections and what the perspectives they bring to U.S. history provide is available at our Chronicling America Teacher's Guide. Or, you can go directly to Chronicling America and use the “All Digitalized Newspapers” tab in the search menu.

The “Golden Age” of Newspapers

The greatest concentration of Chronicling America material currently available online runs from 1900–1922, offering an unrivaled view of the heyday of what historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has called the “golden age of journalism.” Here one can immerse oneself in the Populist and Progressive Eras, the leadership of Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and the return to “normalcy” under President Warren Harding. On the world stage, this is the period of the Great War, the Russian Revolution, and the worldwide influenza pandemic—all of which are covered in great and fascinating detail in these pages.

The date range and states included in Chronicling America’s newspapers collection are constantly expanding. You can begin to explore the riches of this database by simply searching Chronicling America by keyword or by using the suggested list of topics arranged by subject, decade or large theme.

Teaching and Researching with Chronicling America

EDSITEment provides a robust collection of resources and lessons that incorporate Chronicling America. Teachers and students will find these materials helpful in navigating the database, creating research questions on a given NHD theme or project topic, and incorporating historic newspapers into classroom discussions and projects. 

Chronicling and Mapping the Women's Suffrage Movement—This lesson brings together digital mapping and the Chronicling America newspaper database as part of an inquiry into how and where the women’s suffrage movement took place in the United States.

Thomas Edison's Inventions in the 1900s and Today: From "New" to You!—Students can trace the history of Thomas Edison's inventions through EDSITEment's lesson plan and this fascinating article on the history of the incandescent bulb from Chronicling America.

The Industrial Age in America: Sweatshops, Steel Mills, and Factories—Technological innovation isn't always entirely beneficial. Read Upton Sinclair's first hand account of the abuse that accompanied the industrial revolution while engaging in this lesson on the era of industrialization in the U.S.

Chronicling America: Uncovering a World at War—This lesson gives students the opportunity to interact with historical newspapers from the WWI era available through Chronicling America and engage in dialogue as they decide: Should the United States remain neutral or join the fight?

NHD Advice from NEH Experts

The National Endowment for the Humanities and National History Day collaborated to produce videos featuring NEH grant recipients for the benefit of students and teachers as they prepare their projects. The "Ask an NEH Expert" videos below offer advice from scholars and educators that can be applied to work on any NHD project topic and type.

NEH Project Skills and Resources

Each institution represented in this section was awarded a CARES Act grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2020 to develop digital resources and expand access to their materials for schools and the public. 

Ask an NEH Expert: Wide Research—Jeffrey Ludwig, Director of Education at the Seward House Museum (Auburn, New York), discusses the benefits of wide research when developing any project. The video includes examples of primary sources and other resources available at the Seward House that illustrate how wide research works. 

Ask an NEH Expert: Historical Significance—Shatavia Elder, Vice President of Education at the Atlanta History Center (Atlanta, Georgia), offers advice on the importance of historical significance when writing about a topic, event, person, or era. The video includes materials available at the Atlanta History Center that show how researchers can evaluate historical significance across time. 

Ask an NEH Expert: Multiple Perspectives—Anne Petersen, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (Santa Barbara, California), addresses why multiple perspectives are important to developing a rich understanding of historical events and topics. The video includes how maps and primary documents available at the Santa Barbara Trust can be used to analyze multiple and competing perspectives in history.

NEH Project Skills

This set of "Ask an NEH Expert" videos focuses on the skills related to writing, researching, and editing that are applicable to all National History Day project categories and topics. 

Ask an NEH Expert: Building an Argument—Margaret Hughes, Historic Hudson Valley's Associate Director for Education, provides guidance on crafting an argument, and strategies for how to successfully incorporate that argument into a National History Day project. Margaret has also served as a judge for the Lower Hudson National History Day regional competition.

Ask an NEH Expert: Validating Sources—Leslie Hayes, the New-York Historical Society's Director of Education, offers valuable advice and questions students should ask in the process of validating primary and secondary sources for use in National History Day projects. Leslie is an NEH grant recipient and has led NEH summer institutes for K-12 educators, including American Women, American Citizens: 1920-1948.

Ask an NEH Expert: Writing and Editing—Dana Williams, Howard University's English Department Chair and professor of African American literature, shares her experiential insight and guidance for success in the writing and editing process for National History Day projects. Dr. Williams has received five NEH grants, and is currently completing a book-length study on Toni Morrison's editorship, which will be published by Amistad, a division of Harper Collins.

NEH Project Categories

These five videos—one for each project category—feature experts in the fields of documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances, and websites. 

Ask an NEH Expert: Documentaries—Eric Stange, a documentary filmmaker, and Kevin Shirley, a NHD coordinator in Georgia, discuss successful practices for developing documentaries for the NHD competition. 

Ask an NEH Expert: Exhibits—Marci Raven of the New-York Historical Society and Whitney Olsen, a NHD coordinator in California, provide strategies and advice for designing and presenting successful NHD exhibits.

Ask an NEH Expert: PapersAuthor and editor Christina Thompson provides expert tips on developing one’s voice as a writer, along with advice for organizing and revising your paper.  

Ask an NEH Expert: PerformancesJenny Inge is a performer and playwright and, in this video, she discusses how students can integrate their personal perspective into their performance as they portray the perspectives and events of history they have researched.

Ask an NEH Expert: WebsitesBetsy Newman is an award-winning documentary and web-content producer and in this video, she provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on how to produce digital NHD projects.

2025: Rights and Responsibilities in History

Through the 2025 National History Day theme, students will explore the interconnectedness of Rights and Responsibilities in History. Students have the flexibility to select from a wide range of global topics or focus on specific regional interests within this broad subject area. Keep in mind that both rights and responsibilities must be covered in each project. 

Research can focus on exploring the rights and responsibilities of various demographic groups, including but not limited to religious groups, women, children, Latinx populations, Black populations, immigrant groups, incarcerated populations, and disabled populations. Delving into the specific challenges, legal protections, and social dynamics impacting these groups can provide valuable insights into the complexities of their experiences and interactions within society. 

This year’s theme narrative revolves around the story of Jewish Americans: Securing Rights and Responsibilities to Others. The essay discusses the historical need for self-advocacy throughout the Jewish American experience. It also brings to light the fact that while advocating for their own community, Jewish Americans also supported other communities, notably as strong advocates for the Civil Rights Movement. More resources can be found on the NHD Website as well as in this year’s theme book. 

EDSITEment Resources for Rights and Responsibilities in History

Resource Archive

Check out our EDSITEment National History Day Resource Archive, tailored for the 2014 to 2024 competition years, which can spark ideas for your current National History Day projects.