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National History Day: Choosing a Topic

Help in research for National History Day projects and links to the National History Day website.

Choose a Good Topic

Choose something different! Judges may see three or four entries on common topics. If you choose something a little unusual,

    • You'll learn more
    • You'll show that you've taken the time and made the effort to do something special
    • You'll get a "Wow!" effect


    • Think of a person who was the leader or a catalyst in your chosen topic. 
    • Start with biographical encyclopedias to find information. A few suggestions:
    • African-American Social Leaders and Activists
    • Biographical Dictionary of People in Engineering: From the Earliest Records until 2000
    • Shapers of the Great Debate on Women's Rights
    • Shapers of the Great Debate on the Freedom of Religion
    • Shapers of the Great Debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787


    • Think of an idea that changed the way we think about or deal with an issue.
    • Start with encyclopedias or books on important ideas. A few suggestions:
    • American Radical and Reform Writers
    • Muckrakers: A Biographical Dictionary of Writers and Editors
    • Britannica Guide to Theories and Ideas That Changed the Modern World
    • Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice
    • Companion Encyclopedia to the History of Medicine


    • Think of an event that changed the direction of a society.
    • Start with historical encyclopedias or books. A few suggestions:
    • Events that Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century
    • Events that Changed the World ... [many other times & countries]
    • Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History
    • Photos that Changed the World: Twentieth Century
    • Encyclopedia of American Political History: Studies of Principal Movements and Ideas
    • Encyclopedia of American Economic History: Studies of Principal Movements and Ideas
    • Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy: Studies of Principal Movements and Ideas

Choose something for which good sources are easily available. Judges look for good, reliable, varied sources that you have used for research. They want evidence that you have actually read the sources in your bibliography, and may ask you how you used each source! It’s better to have fewer sources that you have read and understood than lots of sources you clearly have not read and used in your project.

    • Local topics often lack adequate resources for research. Some ancient or foreign topics may be difficult if sources are in foreign languages, not readily available, or hard to read.
    • Start with an encyclopedia article to get a broad overview. You may use a good general encyclopedia such as the Encyclopedia Britannica, or a specialized encyclopedia such as the Encyclopedia of United States Foreign Relations.
    • Find a book or two in the library using a narrow search term such as the examples above. Always ask your librarian for help – he or she knows a lot about how to find information!
    • Find information online from reliable sources. Always check “About us” or a similar page to see who provided the information on a web site: it may be a reliable organization or person, or someone unreliable. Try limiting your search to sites with .org or .gov extensions (use the Advanced Search option for this)
    • Never use Wikipedia as a source for serious research: anyone can put anything in it.
    • Find some scholarly articles. Use the Ebsco database at school or from home, or visit the UTEP Library or the public library and ask a librarian for help in finding an article.
    • CITE YOUR SOURCES. Encyclopedias, books, articles, and websites must be cited correctly in your bibliography

Subject Guide

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