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What is National History Day – California?


National History Day, is a year-long educational program that encourages students to explore local, state, national, and world history. After selecting a historical topic that relates to an annual theme, students conduct extensive research by using libraries, archives, museums, and oral history interviews. They analyze and interpret their findings, draw conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, and create final projects that present their work. These projects can be entered into a series of competitions, from the local to the national level, where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators.


National History Day – California, one of the largest state History Day competitions, takes place in 34 counties and reaches some 44,000 students each year, culminating in an annual state wide contest with over 1,400 participants. National History Day – California provides an enhanced History Day program, including the elementary student 2-dimensional display category and the web site category, which has become part of the national competition.


Can I participate in National History Day – California?

National History Day is open to all students in grades 4 through 12. All types of students participate in NHD; for example: public, private, parochial and home-school students; urban, suburban and rural students; English language learners, academically gifted and average students, and students with special needs.


How Does History Day Work?

National History Day is both a way to teach history and a highly regarded academic competition. Students participate locally (at the school or school district level) to reach county or regional contests. Champion entries from these county/regional contests represent their areas at National History Day – California. Champions at the state competition in the Junior and Senior Divisions advance to National History Day held at the University of Maryland each year.


Three grade-span divisions comprise the California contest:

  • Elementary (grades 4 & 5)

  • Junior (grades 6 – 8)

  • Senior (grades 9 – 12)


There are two entry categories for the Elementary Division (grades 4 &5):

  • Individual Poster

  • Group Poster


There are nine entry categories each for the Junior and Senior Divisions:

  • Individual Paper

  • Individual Exhibit

  • Group Exhibit

  • Individual Web site

  • Group Web site

  • Individual Performance

  • Group Performance

  • Individual Documentary

  • Group Documentary


Individual entries consist of one student. Group entries may have two to five students. The highest level of competition advancement for the Elementary Division is National History Day – California.


Students reach their county or regional contest through a variety of means. We recommend that you contact your county office of education for specific information. Click here for a list of county history day coordinators.


What am I required to do to participate in NHD-CA?

Students choose a history topic related to NHD’s annual contest theme, conduct extensive research over the course of the school year, and create performances, documentaries, papers, exhibits, or a poster (for fourth and fifth grade students only), which they may enter in competition at the district and state level. Champion entries from grades six through twelve at the state level advance to the National History Day contest at the University of Maryland.


How do I get started with History Day?

First, students should find out if their school has an established History Day program. Some students participate through after school and scouting programs in addition to those who participate through their schools. Students simply need to find a teacher or trusted adult who would be willing to act as a sponsor for their projects. These “coaches” help students with time management and serve as mentors as students conduct research and create projects. Students do not need to register to participate in the program unless they plan on competing. Some schools have their own contests to determine who will move on to the regional contests. Regional registration forms are typically due in February. Contact your local county office of education for information regarding your county level contest and registration requirements. Top entries at each regional contest may move on to the state contest. Registration information for the state contest is online, and details will be given to the winners at the regional contests.


How many students and Teachers participate in History Day?

Nationwide, 700,000 students and 40,000 teachers annually participate in National History Day programs. More than 3,000 students from across the country attend the national contest (from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Schools and American Samoa). Over 35,000 students participate in NHD-California each year with nearly 1,200 competing at the state level contest in 20 entry categories across three grade-span divisions (elementary, junior, and senior).


When is National History Day?

Every day is National History Day! History Day is a year-long program that culminates in a national contest in June in College Park, MD. Although the annual competition gains the most notoriety, National History Day is, at its heart, a way to teach and learn history by becoming a historian. Typically, school-level contests take place in late January-early February; county/regional contests take place in early-mid March; and the state contest takes place in late April-early May. Champion entries from school-level contests advance to the county competition. This advancement cycle repeats to the contests at the state and national levels.


How did National History Day begin?


National History Day started as a small contest in Cleveland in 1974. Members of the history department at Case Western Reserve University developed the initial idea for a history contest to make teaching and learning history a fun and exciting experience. Students gathered on campus to devote one day to history. They called it “National History Day.” Although the name has remained the same, NHD has grown into a national organization with year-round programs and a week-long national contest.

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