Chester County Historical Society
History Education Programs
                                                                                                                                                            225 North High Street, West Chester, PA  19380-2691
                                                                                                                                                            Museum Hours: Wednesday-Saturday  10 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Here are answers to common questions students and teachers across the country asked NHD organizers on Sept. 28, 2012 about the 2013 theme, "Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events".  

We are brand new to the NHD competition. What is the best advice for teachers and students both to know to be able to do their very best work?
My advice is to take preparation slowly and have students think about each research step in-depth.  This may mean that you do not have entries to the contest your first year. Have students read the rule book in sections and discuss, and do the same with the theme sheet. After reading the theme sheet students should think about the theme broadly and "try on” different topics. Have students form good research habits by exploring different ways to keep track of sources and how to write thesis statements. Have fun and celebrate each new discovery as the students research their topic!

Several students have asked about topics that might have changed local history such as the unsuccessful fighting of the construction of a local dam/reservoir. They are wondering if the 'turning point' has to be national level or asking the question of how big of a turning point should they be looking for.
Local topics are wonderful to research because most of the sources will be close.  The rule-of-thumb is that the students have selected the topic because of interest and not assigned by the teacher.  The topic is a turning point in the community and the students can track the short term and long term changes that happened because of the event.  Make sure students build the historical context around the topic.

Every year this question seems to arise, and it will for certain again this year....Do the student projects need to address the complete theme “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events”? We always assure the students that it is not necessary to address all three, but then the winning entries always seem to manage to have done so! What exactly do you tell the judges in their instructions before they judge concerning the theme and the necessity (or lack thereof) of addressing all three areas in the theme? What is your advice for us to give to our teachers and students regarding the theme?
We tell the judges students will address their topic as a Turning Point in History but depending on the topic, may only address one or two of the descriptors. In a rare case, the research may address all three of the descriptors.  As I watch NHD students being judged I see the students who can articulate clearly and concisely how their topic fits the theme rise through the competition.  The key is students’ articulation of the theme.

I have agreed to assist my niece in advising her on her history paper (I realize the difference between assisting and doing). My issue is this: She had picked a topic that happened in 1996 and came to national attention in 2005. I feel this is more a current event rather than a topic for a "history" research paper. Would it be wrong to try to steer her to a topic that happened further back in history. Also, if I am correct in assuming this is too recent, is there anything in writing referring to a timeframe as to when a topic is considered "historical"...I have not found anything in the rules so far. 
As always your question depends on the topic.  Is there enough secondary sources written about the topic to merit a research project?  Generally, for a topic to be received as a valid historical research project, it is removed from the present by a generation (25 years) to allow time to pass to tell us the long term impact of the event.

Does the main topic of research need to be a turning point, or can it be an important event or person within a larger turning point? For example, would it be appropriate for a student to research the role of the Irish brigade during the Battle of Gettysburg? Gettysburg can be argued as a turning point in the Civil War which was in itself a turning point in American history. If a student wanted to focus on just the role of the Irish brigade in these two bigger turning point events, would that be acceptable?
The turning point needs to be the topic.  If the student is interested in the Irish brigade, then the research might focus on a turning point in the Civil War because of the Irish Brigade.

If a student participated in the Normandy Sacrifice for Freedom program, is it okay if they create a History Day entry about a D-Day related turning point? While they will be conducting new research and revisiting previously read sources, it would technically be connected to something they started during the last school year.
The research done by the students in the institute was focused on a soldier - this is very different than a research project for National History Day.  Students often become interested in topics because of assignments in classes or outside reading.  The institute may have sparked an interest in looking in depth at a battle in the second World War.

I am a student new to the NHD program and I have several questions about this year's theme:
1) How does one differentiate between a revolution and a turning point?
2) Can our research topic (our turning point) be a recent event?
3) Can our turning point be an event taking place before the time of modern men?
4) Must our turning point have a major impact on society during that time?
5) How does one measure the magnitude of a turning point?

Excellent questions!  You are thinking like a historian.  Questions one and five about definitions are something you must define within the context of your topic.  Your research must be grounded in history and not a current event. So the answer to question number two is no.  We suggest you discuss your topic with your teacher and do a preliminary search of secondary sources.  Most recent topics, within the past 25 years, do not have enough secondary sources to conduct historical research.  In answer to number three, you can conduct research before the age of modern man, but again, check the availability of resources for your topic.  And for your fourth question, yes, your topic should show evidence of an immediate change and long term change to a community, a country or in the world.

Would it be better for your thesis statement to have only one main point or is it better to have one main point but have other supporting details and supporting points in your thesis statement?
This should be discussed with your teacher but the clarity and more concise your thesis is, the easier it will be for you to connect your research to the thesis. 
This year's NHD theme is Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, and Events. Is it better to focus on one aspect of the theme, for example only people?  Or is better to focus on all three aspects of the topic, people, ideas, and events?
Choose a topic that you are interested in research that connects to the large theme of Turning Points in History and then see which of the descriptors your topic has connections. It may be only people, or only ideas or only events or it may be all three.  Don’t force a connection but be able to articulate clearly in the project and/or the interview how your topic connects with the theme.

With the theme "turning points in history," I note that one of the options is "people."  Given that many important people live for decades, and influence our country in many ways, would it work to focus in on one aspect of their lives and a single contribution to history?  For example, Eleanor Roosevelt and her role in the the Declaration of Human Rights, or Thomas Jefferson's articulation of freedom of religion? I am thinking that is preferable to a biography.
You are correct. The focus should be the turning point and the role the person played in the turing point, not a biography of the person's life.  

Would you say that a revolution is a turning point or would you suggest doing a specific event instead?
I think it would be best to push your research toward a turning point that happens before, during or after a revolution so the theme is clear in your research.  Choosing revolution as your topic might be confused with last year's theme.

So if we are doing a project on a revolution, for example the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it would be better to do it on a turning point in the revolution instead of the revolution itself as a turning point?
Yes, because taking on the entire Chinese cultural Revolution is too large a topic for a NHD project.  Approaching a turning point within the cultural revolution will align your reseach with the theme and allow you to talk about the Chinese cultural revolution in historical context.

The information below is from the 2012 Question and Answer session, but are still pertinent:

Is there a minimal number of years the topic must be? 10 years old? 20 years old?

It depends on the topic, but the general rule of thumb is that a generation must have passed, or 25 years.

Can the topic be world history?
Yes, you may certainly choose a world history topic. National History Day is about local, state, national and world history topics.

Can website projects add video clips?
Yes, web site entries can have video clips. Please review the NHD Rule Book, pages 19-21.
*During this discussion, we are focusing on the 2012 theme, Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. Please refrain from asking unrelated questions at this time.*

What is the difference between a “revolution” and simply, a big change? Can something be a “revolution” if it is simply something new? Thus, is an innovation or invention a revolution?
Think about long term change. How many people did it impact and how significant was the change?

Should projects address all three parts of the theme?
No. Certain topics will lend themselves well to addressing all parts and others will be directly related to one word in the theme. The judges will be listening for the how well the student(s) articulates why the research topic fits the theme.

What about the change in the US public educational system from being only for the wealthy or lucky to being available to all? What about smaller, more specific topics related to teaching, such as the change in language education from audio-lingual to content-based?
You will need to narrow the topic and think of a time that there was a revolution in education. For example, Title IX or when girls were allowed to enter higher education... is this a revolution or reform? Why did the change take place at a certain time in history?

What are your suggestions for a student that is interested in a topic with a pro-life theme?
If the student is interested and wants to be informed about the topic, and can find a strong connection with the theme, then it is a good topic for that student. My suggestion would be to thoroughly research both sides. The student should understand that National History Day is not a forum to convert peers, teachers and judges to one way of thinking about topics, but a rigorous research program. 
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