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Contest Rule Book

What Is National History Day?

National History Day (NHD) is not just one day, but a yearlong program that makes history come alive every day. NHD is an exciting way to study history and learn about issues, ideas, people, and events that interest you. The program lets you express what you have learned through creative and original performances, documentaries, papers, or three-dimensional exhibits. Through NHD you will learn the skills and techniques of the historian and discover new insights. At the competitions you will have the opportunity to meet students from other schools, exchange ideas, and demonstrate the results of your work. Your success in researching and producing an NHD entry may even take you to the national contest held each June at the University of Maryland at College Park.

NOTE: Before you begin work on your entry, you, your teacher, and your parents should carefully read this booklet. This guidebook contains rules that you must follow to compete in any level of the National History Day (NHD) competition. More information on topics, sources, and deadlines are available from your district and state NHD coordinators. This rule book was published in 2002 and will be updated in 2004. Always contact your district or state coordinator to learn if any rules have been revised since publication of this rule book. An on-line version of this book is available on the NHD Website at www.nhd.org.


Historical Context

    The intellectual, physical, social, and cultural setting in which events take place.

Historical Perspective

    Understanding a topic's development over time and its influence in history.


    Plagiarism is using the work or ideas of others in ways that give the impression that these are your own (e.g. copying information word-for-word without using quotations and footnotes, paraphrasing an author's ideas, or using visuals or music without giving proper credit.)

Primary Sources

    The most basic definition of a primary source is: that which is written or produced in the time period students are investigating. Primary sources are materials directly related to a topic by time or participation. These materials include letters, speeches, diaries, newspaper articles from the time, oral history interviews, documents, photographs, artifacts, or anything else that provides first-hand accounts about a person or event. This definition also applies to primary sources found on the Internet. A letter written by President Lincoln in 1862 is a primary source for a student researching the Civil War era. A newspaper article about the Battle of Gettysburg written by a contemporary in July 1863 would be a primary source; but an article about the battle written in June 2001 probably was not written by an eyewitness or participant and would not be a primary source. The memories of a person who took part in the battle also can serve as a primary source. He was an eyewitness to and a participant in this historical event at the time. However, an interview with an expert (a professor of Civil War history, for example) is not a primary source UNLESS that expert actually lived through and has first-hand knowledge of the events being described (Highly unlikely for a Civil War historian!).

NOTE: Primary materials, such as quotes from historical figures and photographs of historical events, can be retrieved from secondary quotation, selecting it from the original sources and used effectively in History Day projects. However, these are not considered primary sources. Check out the "Research Roadmap" on the NHD Website at www.nhd.org for additional help on primary sources.

Secondary Sources

    Secondary sources are usually published books or articles by authors who were not eyewitnesses or participants in the historical event or period and who base their interpretation on primary sources, research, and study. These sources provide context for a historical event. For example, high school history textbooks and other history books about a particular topic are secondary sources. So are biographies, newspaper retrospectives, and reference books such as encyclopedias. This definition also applies to secondary sources found on the Internet.

NOTE: National History Day programs are open to all students and teachers without regard to race, sex, religion, physical abilities, economic status, or sexual orientation. National History Day does not discriminate against or limit participation by physically challenged students. This rule book is available on audiotape from the National History Day office. National History Day staff and state coordinators will make every effort to accommodate students with special needs.

These Rules may be duplicated without permission of National History Day. Duplication for profit is strictly prohibited.