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Welcome to your National History Day journey!  When your teacher assigns a History Day project or when you choose to do a project on your own, you are taking on a challenging job. 

You will choose a historical topic that interests you and is related to the annual theme. In your research, you may find yourself looking through libraries, archives and museums, conducting oral history interviews, and visiting historic sites.  You will become the expert on your topic--you may end up knowing more than your teacher will! You will then be able to present your work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a web site (see Categories below for more information).

As you get started, review the rule book and look through some of the resources below to help guide you over the course of this project. Remember you can always contact Massachusetts History Day staff if you have any questions.  You can also find a ton of helpful resources at the National History Day Student Page

Most of all, have fun!

Annual Theme 

Every year the National History Day program frames students’ research within a historical theme. The theme is chosen for the broad application to world, national, or state history and its relevance to ancient history or to the more recent past. The 2018-2019 theme is Triumph & Tragedy in History.

The themes are chosen to be broad enough to encourage investigation of topics ranging from local history to world history, and from ancient time to the recent past. To understand the historical importance of your topic you need to ask questions about time, place and context, cause and effect, change over time, and impact and significance. You must consider not only when and where events happened, but also why they occurred and what factors contributed to their development.

Triumph and Tragedy Resources

NHD Official Theme Page
Theme Book
4Ts Theme Worksheet

Theme Narrative

Theme Webinar
and PowerPoint

Many historical societies, museums, and archives create their own theme pages every year as well.  Check out some of the following pages for inspiration on Triumph and Tragedy-related topic ideas!

Massachusetts Historical Society
Harvard Schlesinger Library
The National Maritime Historical Society
The National Maritime Historical Society
Smithsonian Affiliates

Get inspired at the MHS! 

Passionate about African American history? Curious to know what women did during the American Revolution? Don't know where to start

We've got you covered. Check out our online collections, visit us in person, or get in touch! Our staff are ready to help you find a unique topic that's just right for you.

Project Categories 

Explore the possible categories and choose one that best fits your talents and skills.  Papers can only be done by individuals, but all other categories can be individual or groups of up to 5 students.

For more contest information on the individual categories, please see the Official Rule Book or check out NHD's "How To" page.  For examples of past student projects, check out examples from previous NHD winners.


You will want to explore your topic as thoroughly as possible, looking for primary and secondary sources of information. Your teacher and librarian are good resources for suggestions about where and how to locate information. Be sure to check out the "MHD Research" tab and NHD: Helpful Links page for links to various resources both local and national! Remember to keep good notes on where you are finding your information because you will need that for your Annotated Bibliography.

Putting It All Together: Title Page, Process Paper, and Annotated Bibliography

As part of the final project, all projects except for papers require a title page, process paper, and annotated bibliography. Papers do not require the process paper, but do require a title page and annotated bibliography.

Papers: Title Page

Your title page must include only the title of your entry, your name(s), and the contest division and category in which you are entered. Do not include your age, grade, or school name.

Process Paper 

All entries, except for papers, must be accompanied by a process paper. A process paper is a description of no more than 500 words explaining how you conducted your research and created and developed your entry. You must conclude your description with an explanation of the relationship of your topic to the contest theme.  See the Rule Book for more information.  This worksheet can help guide your process paper as well.

A process paper is a description of no more than 500 words of how you conducted your research, developed your topic idea, and created your entry.  The process paper must also explain the relationship of your topic to the contest theme. All entries except for papers must include a process paper.  For more information on the Process Paper and other rules, review the Contest Rule Book (English) / Contest Rule Book (Spanish).

All process papers need the following on the cover:
Project title
Entry category
Student name(s)
Process paper # of words

The first section should explain how you chose your topic.
The second section should explain how you conducted your research.
The third section should explain how you selected your presentation category and created your project.
The fourth section should explain how your project relates to the NHD theme.

Annotated Bibliography 

A standard annotated bibliography containing all sources that provided new and usable information for the preparation of the project. Each entry must be followed by a short description of each source, how it was used and how it related to one's main topic and the yearly theme. The bibliography must be separated by primary and secondary sources, as well as source type (Primary Interviews versus Secondary Periodicals). Although many contestants choose to use the MLA format for ease of use, Turabian is allowed.

Check out the National History Day page on Annotated Bibliographies, including information on using NoodleBib if your school participates in their free NHD package.

MHD Competition Day 


Prior to the competition, you will need to register your project.  See the Contest Info page for information on where to register for your regional contest.  The registration website will have further instructions on how to register and to let us know what sort of accommodations you need for your project or interview!

Registration fees are $16 for regional competitions and $18 for the state competition; you can pay via check or through the registration website.  If this fee is a barrier to competing, please contact State Coordinator Kate Melchior to discuss your options.  Please check with your teacher to find out whether your school is paying for registration as well!

What to expect when you arrive at the competition

When you arrive at the contest site, you must check in at a registration desk. Prior to the contest, you will receive a schedule of events that explains where and when to set up your entry and the time of your judging interview. The contest will be divided by format: documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances, and websites. Each format includes two divisions, a senior level and a junior level.

Websites and Papers will be reviewed by judges prior to the competition.  See Contest Info for information on submitting these projects for review ahead of time.  Exhibits will be examined on the morning of the competition, and Documentaries and Performances will be viewed by judges directly for your interview.

After your interview, judges will deliberate and award medals and special prizes, which will be announced later in the afternoon.  You will receive more information from your district coordinator about your region's contest prior to the event--please contact them with any questions!


Each individual or group will speak with a set of judges once during the contest. Judges will be divided into groups of two or three qualified volunteers who are eager to learn about your project. You should expect these types of questions:
  • How did you start your research?
  • What drew you to this topic?
  • How does your topic relate to the theme?
  • What is your topic's significance in history?
  • Why did you choose these colors?
  • How did you decide how to organize your exhibit, documentary, paper, etc.?
  • What primary sources did you use and where did you find them?

NOTE: While you should definitely prepare for the brief meeting with the judges, understand that in terms of judging, your project alone is being evaluated, not your responses at the meeting. The answers you provide at the meeting, however, may help provide the judges with suggestions for improving your project for the next round.

How an Entry Is Judged

Regardless of which category a student enters, the following principles of evaluation will be used in the judging of National History Day entries. 

Historical Quality

The most important aspect of an entry is its historical quality, which determines 60% of the total evaluation. The judges' evaluation will rest on the students' success at conducting historical research, interpreting their research, and drawing conclusions. A superior rating generally reflects positive responses to the following questions:

  • Is the entry historically accurate?
  • Does the entry include analysis and interpretation of the historical data? The entry should not just recount facts but also interpret them.
  • Does the entry demonstrate an understanding of the historical context – the intellectual, physical, social, and cultural setting?
  • Does the entry reflect historical perspective – the causes and consequences of an event, for example, or the relationship of a local topic to larger events?
  • Does the annotated bibliography demonstrate solid research?
  • Does the entry demonstrate a balanced presentation of materials?
  • Does the entry use a variety of viewpoints and perspectives? (e.g., those who suffered as well as those who benefited, males, females, people from different racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups, as appropriate to the topic)?
  • Does the entry demonstrate the use of available primary sources and secondary sources?

Clarity of Presentation

Although historical quality is most important, entries must be presented in an effective manner. This section is worth 20% of the total evaluation. Do not be carried away by glitz; simpler is often – but not always - better. The following questions are examples of what will be considered by judges when looking at clarity of presentation:

  • Is the entry original, creative, well organized, and imaginative in subject and presentation?
  • Does the entry demonstrate the historical significance of the topic effectively?
  • Is the written material clear, grammatical, and correctly spelled?
  • In exhibits, are the title, sectional divisions, and main points easy to find?
  • Are photographs and images appropriate in terms of content and location?
  • Is the overall project nice to look at/watch/read?

Relationship to Theme

The entry must clearly explain the relation of the topic to the annual National History Day theme. This section is worth 20% of the total evaluation. The topic should be placed in historical context, and the entry must demonstrate the student's understanding of the significance of the topic in history. The entry should not confuse fame with significance. In other words, the entry should answer the questions, "So what? Why was this important?" It should not be just descriptive. The relationship of the entry's topic to the yearly theme should be explicit and should be integrated into the entry itself.

After the competition you will receive the evaluation sheets (sample evaluation sheets are available as a zip file here) filled out by each of the judges who interviewed you. Use their comments to improve your project if you are advancing to the next level or to improve your entry for next year's contest.


What should I do if one of my group members can't make the competition?
Every effort should be made to attend the Competitions.  History Day staff will work with you to accommodate specific schedule needs. However, if one of your group members is unable to attend a competition, your group is still eligible to participate. 
The only exception to this rule is for Performances, where all students must be able to compete.  Please contact state coordinator Kate Melchior as well as your District Coordinator for any questions, concerns, or to look into accomodations. 

How much help can I get from my parents?
All aspects of projects must be created by the students associated with it. However, in circumstances where power tools, or other dangerous materials need to be used parental assistance is absolutely fine.  Do keep in mind that for the Performance category your parents may help you carry staging items into the room, but the student needs to set up any props. 
Is it ok to make changes to my project in-between the District, State, and National Contests? 
Absolutely! We encourage you to use the constructive feedback that you received at the District Contest to improve your project before the State Contest, and from the State Contest to the National Contest.