National History Day provides inspiration and hope

For many years I have served as a volunteer for National History Day (NHD). NHD began in Cleveland in 1974 with students participating in the equivalent of a Science Fair for history. Participants develop research questions, conduct research, analyze information, and write conclusions based on a theme that changes annually. The originator, David Van Tassel, hoped to help younger students see the relevance of history in their lives. By 1976 the competition spread statewide and within four years it was nationwide. Currently, around 500,000 students participate each year, supported by 30,000 teachers. Students may participate in NHD at local, regional, state, and national levels. The strongest projects advance throughout the levels. Students choose to participate individually or in a group. Individuals submit papers, websites, documentaries, performances, or exhibits. Groups can submit websites, documentaries, performances, or exhibits. You can view examples here.

My daughter dove into history day in 8th grade and in 10th grade represented Washington State at the national contest in Maryland. As a History Day parent, I provided transportation and the occasional feedback upon request. Significant adult help is forbidden. I served as a chaperone for the national competition. Imagine a college taken over by hundreds of students excited about history, some of them wandering around in costume for their performances, and all cheering their state team. About ten years ago I first volunteered as a judge. Judges receive an orientation to the rules and processes of the contest and use rubrics to rank the projects in teams.

For the last couple of years I’ve participate virtually as a judge. I’ve judged documentaries and websites from home. Every year I learn from each of the thirteen or so student projects I review. This year’s theme is “Debate & Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences.” The creativity of the students amazes me. They locate primary documents, interview experts, communicate their thesis, and analyze their findings. The skills they learn through NHD will aid them in future endeavours. 

If you are interested in volunteering, you can find the organization in your state by checking out the affiliate links. I’m so grateful for these students who teach me, fill me with hope, and inspire me.

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