Topics for History Day
Picking a topic for your History Day project is the most important first step. You must make sure that your topic fits within the annual theme, that it fits the category (exhibit, documentary, etc.) you want to pursue, and that it is narrow enough so that you can tell its whole story easily.
History Day is fun, but it’s also a lot of work. You’ll be working on this project for many months. It is important that you choose a topic that you are really interested in learning more about.
We encourage you to pick a person or event in history that isn’t all that well known. For example, pick a locally famous person. Go to your local library or museum and find out who the important people are in your town’s history. We think you will be surprised to find some great stories in your own backyard. Or, if that doesn’t interest you, dig through your social studies book and find a name you don’t know. There are plenty of people who made important contributions in history that no one knows about. It is most important that you choose a topic you find fascinating. Don’t hesitate to look at areas you are interested in, even if they don’t appear to be historic. History can be found in science, sports, transportation, and fashion. History is not all about dead presidents and treaties. Research something you want to know about!
Ask yourself several questions to determine a general subject area that you can narrow down to a more specific topic. Do you like music? Are you interested in Japanese shoguns? Do you wonder who invented the microchip or how Haydn’s classical music is similar to the punk rock of the 1980s? Do you admire Japanese animation and wonder where it got its start? Everything has a history, so let your imagination fly. Then, start making lists.
What or who are you interested in?
What sports, hobbies or activities do you like?
What are you really good at?
What are your favorite subjects in school?
Were any of your relatives involved in key moments in history? Talk to them. Many parents grew up during the Cold War Era, for example. Ask them to tell you what it was like.
What is your town or local region famous for?
Are you curious about how our region in Sacramento coped during historical events like the Great Depression or Prohibition?
Learning More and Narrowing Your Topic
Let’s say that you decide you are drawn to the Civil Rights movement. You start looking for information in your textbook and on the internet. There is so much information that your head starts spinning! You clearly need to narrow your topic to something you can research and create a project on in a few months. So now you head to your local library and you find a book called Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 by Juan Williams. You find out that many people were involved in the movement over several years. Also, you find that there were several focused efforts in the fight for civil rights. A couple that really interest you are, say, the Birmingham Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. When you read a little more about them, you find that the Civil Rights movement affected and involved millions of people with multiple perspectives from all across the country. OK, so you may not be as interested in the Civil Rights movement as we are. That’s ok. The lesson is still an important one.
While you are narrowing your topic, it is a good idea to jot down people, places or events that get your attention. Take these ideas to your History Day advisor or teacher. He or she may be able to help you focus in on your best topic. Remember, you need to find an event that fits in well with the theme, has important historical significance, and can be developed into one of the project categories.