National Archives News

Archives Hosts National History Day

By Kerri Lawrence  | National Archives News

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2018 — More than 270 middle and high school students from Washington, DC, enriched their understanding of history this week with a visit to the National Archives, which hosted an educational event for National History Day.  

National History Day is a year-long academic program focused on historical research, interpretation, and creative expression. By participating, students become writers, filmmakers, web designers, playwrights, and artists as they create unique contemporary expressions of history.

According to the nonprofit educational organization National History Day, more than 2,000 DC-based students from public, charter, independent, and home schools participate each year—with more than half a million middle and high school students participating nationwide. 

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Team Shares Award-Winning Exhibit

A team of young students from Washington, DC, share their voting rights exhibit and awards during the National History Day competition at the National Archives on April 11-12, 2018. (National Archives photo, Jeffrey Reed)

Every year, National History Day frames students’ research within a historical theme. The theme for this year’s competition was “Conflict and Compromise in History.” Students can then select their own research topic within that framework. 

The theme itself is chosen for its broad application to world, national, or state history and its relevance to ancient history or to the more recent past, according to DC National History Day coordinator Missy McNatt, an education specialist with the National Archives.

McNatt said that the theme offers a unique opportunity for students to think beyond the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates. Students are able to delve deeper through an active exploration of real-world challenges and problems into the historical content, developing perspective and understanding.

“It’s a fantastic example of problem-based learning,” she said. “For middle and high school students who participate, DC History Day sparks critical thinking and helps develop skills in research and analysis, writing, organization, and public speaking.”

Students compete either individually or as a team, using exhibits, documentaries, performances, websites, or papers to share their research with judges and peers. Judges include National Archives professionals as well as humanities scholars, teachers, librarians, and other professionals within the community.

Cheyenne McCall, a junior from Ballou High School and a student at the Center for Inspired Teaching, said she acquired and used several skills in preparation for this competition, including overcoming a fear of public speaking, using multiple sources to conduct her research, and collecting the information using new software and databases.

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Student Presents Research to Judges

Eleventh grader Cheyenne McCall, a Ballou High School and Center for Inspired Teaching student, explains her exhibit—“African American Entrepreneurship After the Civil War”—to a National History Day panel of judges at the National Archives in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2018. (National Archives photo, Jeffrey Reed)

McCall said she developed a passion for her research topic: African Americans and Entrepreneurship after the Civil War.

“I felt a great connection to this topic, and it made me want to keep exploring further and further. This was so much fun. I really learned a lot from this experience,” she said.

The National Archives has hosted DC National History Day since 2006. Each year the competition grows in popularity, introducing more students to National Archives holdings, McNatt said. She and other members of the agency education department offer several workshops and help sessions to teachers and students each year. The agency also shares online resources for them to access for the competition and additional academic study.

“The National Archives is the nation’s recordkeeper,” McNatt said. “We hold billions of primary sources. Many can be incorporated into National History Day research and projects. What a great opportunity to inspire the next generation of researchers and familiarize young people with all the agency has to share.”

Today’s competition is part of a larger series of National History Day contests. Students began their journey by presenting their projects in their classrooms and schools. Top entries from those levels earned entry into their state/affiliate-level contest. The top two entries in every category from this week’s competition will be invited to the national contest to be held June 10–14, 2018, at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Of the 270 DC students participating this year, approximately 120 were recognized for their research projects, some earning the right to move on to a national competition to be held this June. At the national level, DC students compete against other students from all 50 United States, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and international schools in China, South Korea, South Asia, and Central America.