A Reintroduction to National History Day (in Indiana)
In her call for improving history education in the US, Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day argues, “The media, policy makers, and pundits are quick to point out the negative and report on what is not working. But where are the discussions on the demand for evidence-based, wide-ranging, effective, innovative approaches to teaching history?”
Indeed, just as National History Day has been around since the 1970s, it has withstood the test of time and continues to serve as a valuable program for teachers and students across the nation, including more than 4,000 in Indiana. Here is why:
This spring, hundreds of those sixth- through 12th-grade students, teachers and families will gather on college campuses around the state to take part in the National History Day in Indiana program. Local district contests will take place at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame on February 23, IUPUI in Indianapolis on March 9 and Brown County High School in Nashville on April 6. Finalists from each contest will advance to the State Contest at Marian University in Indianapolis on April 27, where state winners will advance to the national contest in June.
National History Day students work in groups or as individuals with an annual theme on a topic of their choosing, whether it is ancient or modern, local, state, national or world history. This year’s theme is Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events. Students will present projects in the form of exhibits, documentaries, websites, papers and performances at each contest.
Through creating these projects, NHDI students will conduct primary and secondary research, analyze information and build projects reflecting their interpretations of history, and then defend their work through interviews with professionals. Students have the opportunity to study a topic of their choice, work with a medium of interest to them and practice and develop important 21st Century Learning skills through teamwork, academic research and analysis, time management and interviews.
National History Day has been endorsed by several national professional organizations including the American Association for State and Local History, Organization of American Historians and the National Council for the Social Studies. Arguing the importance of historical literacy for the modern job market, Norm Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin even endorsed NHD, stating that the skills developed with History Day are “skills needed across a broad range of subjects and disciplines.”
Because there are so many options with History Day, students who traditionally struggle in social studies and other classes often excel with NHD. Further, studies have shown that participating students perform better in social studies and other classes, on standardized tests and are better writers than their non-participating peers. The same students also show improved interest in academic subjects which may wane in high school.
So if you are tired of hearing in the media about what doesn’t work in education, come be a part of what really does. Whether you are a teacher, student, history or education professional or just a history buff, we encourage you to get involved with this program. Teachers can tailor the program to meet the needs of their students, classroom, or history club and NHDI relies heavily on volunteer judges for contests.
National History Day in Indiana is sponsored by the Indiana Historical Society. For more information about the program, visit www.indianahistory.org/historyday or call (317) 233-9559.
This article appeared in the winter ICSS Viewpoints Newsletter.
 Cathy Gorn, “National History Day Works,” OAH Magazine of History 26, no. 3 (2012): 9-12.
 Norm Augustine, “The Education Our Economy Needs,” Wall Street Journal, September 21, 2011.
|Matt Durrett is coordinator, National History Day in Indiana. Usually laconic and reserved, he has recently acquired the nickname “The Quiet Storm” around the office for his rare yet tempest-like outbursts.|