What is National History Day?

National History Day in North Dakota is a project-based learning program that emphasizes critical reading and thinking skills, research, analysis, and the drawing of meaningful conclusions. Students compete in either the junior (grades 6-8) or senior (grades 9-12) division. They can complete their projects either in groups or as individuals 


Keys to a good History Day project

It’s history—It happened at least 20 years ago. 

It’s significant—It fits the annual contest theme. 

It’s got sources—There are plenty of primary and secondary sources available. 

It demands interpretation—It was important when it happened and remains relevant today. 

It’s got soul—You care enough about it to focus on it for a semester or two.

Getting Started

1. Formulate a Research Question

All historical research begins with a question. Research questions remind us what it is we are trying to find out or discover. Before we can dig for treasure, we need a map to guide us to the right spot. If the research question is our map, the topic we choose is the X that marks the spot that helps us know where to start digging.


2. Looking for Information (Research)

Once we find the X on our map, our research topic, we can finally start digging or doing the actual research. The narrower the focus of our topic, the more likely we are to strike gold. With the help of the primary and secondary sources available at libraries and archives in your community, around the state, and online, you are sure to find the materials that provide the evidence to answer your research question. Make sure to organize the information you find chronologically, take notes, and keep track of your sources with a bibliography.

If the research question is our map, and our topic of choice is the X that marks the spot, the annual theme is the compass that helps guide us to the right spot on our map. The National History Day theme changes yearly. The 2024 theme is Turning Points in History: People Ideas Events. This might be a point in time when history shifted because of one person's decision, or a political choice affecting millions. It might be an idea that had global or local consequences. Sometimes a turning point has immediate consequences, and other times its impact is only clear in retrospect. 

2024 Contest Theme 

North Dakota State Archives Finding Aids

North Dakota State Archives Subject Guides


3. Analysis, or Making Sense of the Evidence

Now that you’ve dug up lots of good information, the third step is to make sense of it all. Construct some meaning form your sources. Consider all the important questions and factors that contributed to your research topic. What was the context of the time period you’re researching? What happened? Who was involved? Where and when did it occur? Why did it happen? Have you looked at multiple perspectives? What else was going on? Most importantly, ask yourself, "so what?" What was the impact? How did it affect the culture, lives, or environment of a community or the world? What were the short- and long-term outcomes? Why is this topic important, and why must we understand its effects today? By this phase of the project, you should have a rough idea of your thesis statement. A thesis statement summarizes the main point, the main idea, of your project.


4. Adding It Up (Drawing Conclusions)

Now that you have done the research and analyzed it, what conclusions can you draw? This is where you take the clues that the evidence is pointing toward to decide the “who did it” or “what happened” part of your history mystery. What is the answer to your overall initial research question from step one? Does your reasoning fit the evidence? Finalize your thesis statement.


5. Package Your Product

This is where you finally get to decide what presentation category your project best fits into. The choices include:





Paper (individual only)

Projects tend to fit into some categories better than others for a variety of different reasons. For example, if you are researching a person of a different race or ethnic background, it might not be very sensitive to try to portray them in a performance. If you found a lot of audio-visual material for a topic, it might make a great website or documentary. Maybe you really enjoy the writing process and prefer to submit a traditional paper. Every topic is different and choosing a category should come after you have already done some research.

When you decide what category you’ll use to present your research, make sure you know the contest rules, especially for your specific category.

Learn more here National History Day.

What’s Next?

The teachers at your school will determine the process by which entries will be eligible to move on to the next contest round. If your school does not participate in the History Day program, you may be able to enter a regional or state contest as independent students. There are regional contests in Fargo and Dickinson, usually held in March. Regional winners compete at the state contest in April at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck. First and second-place state winners are eligible to compete in the national contest at the University of Maryland, College Park in June.


Register for the state contest.


Staff at the State Historical Society are here to help. We can meet with educators, students, parents, and administrative officials to help share the value of the program, how to get started, and what to do next. Contact the state coordinator at

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