Welcome to the home of    
Massachusetts History Day!
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What is the National History Day Contest, you ask? Each year more than half a million students just like you participate. NHD is open to all students grades 6 - 12. All types of students participate--public, private, parochial, and home school students; urban, suburban, rural, gifted students and students with special needs. 

You will choose a historical topic related to the annual theme (see this year's Theme Book) and then conduct primary and secondary research. You may find yourself looking through libraries, archives and museums, conducting oral history interviews, and visiting historic sites. You will analyze and interpret your sources and draw conclusions about the significance of your topic. In short, you will do what historians do!  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).

In the spring, you may enter your work into local NHD contests where it will be judged by professional educators and  historians. If your work is chosen as one of the best, you will move on to your state's NHD contest. As a winner at your state NHD contest, you will be eligible to attend the National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park in June. This is where the best National History Day projects from across the United States, American Samoa, Guam, International Schools, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe all meet and compete.
Congratulations on embarking on your National History Day journey! It is sure to be a memorable one. You never know what information you might find, or whom you may get to meet. And the skills you will learn along the way will last a lifetime!

What Massachusetts students say about History Day:

“National History Day taught me that with hard work, anything can be achieved. The experience of competing at the national finals was an amazing one that I will never forget ---from the competition itself to the bonds created with people from across the country, every aspect of this journey was wonderful.”

"I learned just about everything I needed to succeed in college from National History Day---how to do real research, time management, and much more!"

"The entire NHD experience, from researching the role of women in WWII to performing in front of a large audience enhanced my skills in research and public speaking."

Getting Started

Pick a Topic
  • Topics must relate to the Annual Theme (see Theme Book)
  • Topics should be broad enough to find good research, but narrow enough to have a focus
  • Topics should demonstrate a larger historical impact/significance

Choose a Category
Explore the possible categories and choose one that best fits your talents and skills.

Conduct Research
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 "Research" tab above as well! Remember to keep good notes on where you are finding your information because you will need that for your Annotated Bibliography.

Put It All Together
Once the research, analysis, and interpretation are complete you can think about how to best present it (sometimes  when you become more familiar with your topic, another category than the one you originally chose works better).  As you work on your final project, be sure to check the 2018-2019 Contest Rules. (Contest Rules in Spanish)

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

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. 

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.

For more specifics about specific category rules and more, please see the
Official Rule Book

What to expect when you arrive at the competition
When you arrive at the contest site, you must check in at a registration desk. 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. 


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 provide analysis and interpretation of the historical data in addition to an accurate description? The entry should not simply recount facts but 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 (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 will be considered by judges when looking at clarity of presentation:

  • Is the entry original, creative, well organized, and imaginative in subject and presentation?
  • Is the entry effective in communicating the significance of the topic?
  • Is the written material clear, grammatical, and correctly spelled?
  • In exhibits, are the title, sectional divisions, and main points easy to discern?
  • Are photographs and images appropriate in terms of content and location?
  • Is the overall project pleasing to the eye?
  • In a documentary or performance, is the script clear?
  • In a performance, do the students display stage presence?
  • Is the visual material clear and appropriate for the type of entry?
  • Do the students display adequate familiarity with their equipment?

Adherence 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. Please contact state coordinator Kathleen Barker to let her know the name of the student who is unable to attend the contest and the reason why he or she is unable to attend. 

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.