- Reign of Terror: Radicalization of the French Revolution
- The Treaty of Versailles in 1918 and its Consequences
- Valley Forge and the Development of the Continental Army
- The Continental Association and the Coming of the American Revolution
- John Maynard and Keynes and the influence of Keynesian Economics
- Brown v. Board of Education and the integration of American schools
- Federal Power and the Case of McCulloch v. Maryland
- Plessy v. Ferguson and the Growth of Jim Crow
- Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Pivotal Role in the High Middle Ages
- Ronald Reagan and the Resurgence of Conservatism in America
- The Effects of the Fall of Constantinople
- William the Conqueror and the Course of English History
- The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 and the Growth of Suburban America
- Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the Coming of the Protestant Reformation
- Turning Points of the Korean War: China’s Entry
- The International Women’s Day Strike in Petrograd: Spark of the Russian Revolution
- The Impact of Buddha’s Teaching on India
- Ptolemy’s Conquest of Egypt and the Growth of Kushite Civilization
- Consequences of the Recapture of Jerusalem by Salah ad Din
- Television in the 1950s and the Transformation of American Entertainment
- Invention of the Spinning Jenny and the Rise of the Textile Industry
- The Great Migration of African-Americans to the North and its Consequences
- First Victory of the Women’s Suffrage Movement: Norwegian Women Gain the Right to Vote
- The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Decline of the Soviet Empire
- Effects of the Crusades on Medieval Europe
- Ms.Magazine and the growth of the Feminist Movement
- Irish Potato Famine and the Irish Diaspora
- Walter Reed and the Conquest of Yellow Fever
- The Impact of the Erie Canal
- Changing Middle East Politics: The Rise of OPEC
- The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the American Labor Movement
- Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse: A Cultural Transformation
- The Beatles and the British Invasion
- Roger Williams and the Separation of Church and State
- Watergate and the Weakening of the Presidency
- breaking the Barrier: Jackie Robinson
- Birth of a Sugar-Plainting Colony: The Dutch Occupation of Brazil
- The Homestead Act and the Settlement of the West
- Henry Ford: Changing the Production Model
- Sears Roebuck Catalogue and the Rise of Mass Consumerism
- The Impact of Sigmund Freud on Psychiatric Practice
- Harry Truman: Changing the Way We Fight War and the Dropping of the Bomb
- Curt Flood and Free Agency Baseball
- Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring and the Growth of the Environmental Movement
- Midway: Turning the Tide in the Pacific War
Category Archives: Research Suggestions
I have an idea for a topic, now what? Narrow down the topic and connect it to the theme…
Selecting a National History Day topic is a process of gradually narrowing down the area of history (period or event) that interests you to a manageable subject. For example, if you’re interested in Native Americans and the theme is Rights and Responsibilities in History, a natural topic would be treaty rights. Now from there, you would consider the resources you have available to you—perhaps your local historical society—and possibly choose a Native American/U.S. treaty based in your state’s history. Your process might look something like this:
Theme: Rights and Responsibilities in History
Interest: Native Americans
Topic: Treaty Rights
Issue: 1788 Fort Schuyler Treaty
Or, if you’re interested in Women’s Rights and the theme is the Individual in History, you might choose voting rights. Next, consider where you might find further information on voting rights like a public library. After a library search and reading several texts about the era, you identify the women’s suffrage movement as a topic, and then a leader in the struggle for the vote, Alice Paul. In this case, your process looks like this:
Theme: Individual in History
Interest: Women’s Rights
Topic: Suffrage Movement
Issue/Individual: Alice Paul
Or what if you are interested in The Civil War and the theme is Turning Points in History? You might read about the different battles. Utilizing the internet, you can take virtual tours and learn about different battles through the National Park Service. For instance, http://www.nps.gov/gett takes you to The Battle of Gettysburg or http://www.nps.gov/mana will take you to the battle of Bull Run. Pay close attention to other recommended resources as you read. They may point you to further reading on your topic. After reading the websites, you decide the turning point in The Civil War is The Battle of Gettysburg. The process looks like this:
Theme: Turning Points in History
Interest: The Civil War
Issue/Events: The Battle of Gettysburg
Or what if you are interested in science and the theme is Innovation in History? You might research medical discoveries that changed the world like the discovery of penicillin or isolating DNA. Look for resources in libraries, excellent web sites and history of science museums. The process for narrowing your topic and connecting with the theme might follow this sequence:
Theme: Innovation in History
Topic: Medical Discoveries
Sometimes just looking through the local paper can give you a great idea for a topic! Check out today’s Headline from The New Journal, can you come up with a topic from this article? Leave your idea in the comment section below!
Taken from the 2012 NHD Theme Book
Every year thousands of history teachers nationwide stand in front of their students describing the evils of using an open source encyclopedia for research projects. The teachers promise lower grades and a general unfulfilled life for any student who uses Wikipedia in a research bibliography. But, those same students, who listen to the fiery words and to the threats of their history teachers, continue to use Wikipedia as a “one stop shopping” for all assignments. Why? Partly it is due to the internal assignment alarm that rings twenty four hours before a due date and students find themselves in a “time crunch” to complete a project. But, the real culprit is the confusion for students between a research assignment which takes time and thought and a report which is a summary of a topic. Assigned reports are familiar. Students know the expected format: list the facts and the important events, i.e. the common knowledge about the topic. What better place than Wikipedia to find everything you need for a report? However, it is not appropriate for a historical research project.
What is historical research?
The definition of historical research is “the process of systematically examining past events to give an account; may involve interpretation to recapture the nuances, personalities, and ideas that influenced these events; to communicate an understanding of past events.” In the classroom we can simplify this definition to mean historical research is the study of the past and we study the past through primary source documents and those who have studied primary source documents or secondary sources.
Wikipedia is not a primary source. It’s not a secondary source. It can be a tertiary source with caution. But treat it very, very carefully as a tertiary source and here’s why: a critical part of research is to think about the authorship. Who wrote the text becomes as important as what was written. Who is the author and what are his/her credentials? Wikipedia makes the study of authorship impossible because it is written, edited and rewritten by thousands of authors.
Most encyclopedias are written by a single author or a group of authors whose credentials can easily be researched and verified. Wikipedia is written by 91,000 active contributors. Who are the authors writing for Wikipedia? What is their expertise on the subject? No one knows. With almost 100,000 authors it is impossible to distinguish between what is written by a respected expert in the field and an unsubstantiated fact or opinion written by someone who has an interest in the subject.
Wikipedia readily admits this shortcoming on the “about” Wikipedia page. Wikipedia warns: “Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles (except in certain cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism). Users can contribute anonymously, under a pseudonym, or with their real identity, if they choose.”
In short, the writers for Wikipedia run along a continuum of well respected historians, like James McPherson who contributes to the American Civil War Wikipedia page, to a private citizen who may or may not have any real knowledge of the subject. In the case of research and Wikipedia it can be argued: not all knowledge is created equal.
If Wikipedia is bad then why is it so popular?
We live in a society where people get their news from 140 character twitter headlines. We like quick information and Wikipedia lends itself well to the summary report. By virtue of its name “Wiki,” meaning fast in Hawaiian, the lure is too great for the procrastinating nature of the high school student faced with mounting assignments. The lure of accessibility and prevalence of Wikipedia pages compound the trap for even the most well-intentioned novice researcher. Virtually every possible historical research topic has a Wikipedia page. The reality for the classroom teacher is with a boasted 78 million visitors per month as of January 2011- Wikipedia is here to stay.4 Teachers need a new game plan to combat the surface level research Wikipedia makes so easy. The answer is not telling students they cannot use Wikipedia but teaching students how to use it wisely.
Use the Footnotes!
Students who have done historical research before are quick to tell you the golden nuggets of research don’t start appearing until you are at least three layers deep into websites or books. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, a tool to use at the beginning of a research project to get ideas. The word encyclopedia comes from the Greek enkyklia paideia, which means “a general knowledge.” The purpose of an encyclopedia is to provide an overview of subjects. In research, you stop at an encyclopedia, you look around and then you proceed. It is meant to guide you in the direction of other resources to get more information.
Encourage students to use what each page offers as a toolkit to proceed onto the mother lode of the research. Point out the: Notes section, References, Further Reading (Historiography) and Outside links and explain how each will take you deeper into the research. The most appealing aspect of Wikipedia is that you can access so much in one place, but students who learn to ignore the temptation to stop at the first page, and instead, dig deeper: layer by layer, link by link, will benefit from Wikipedia. When used this way, Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia, can help students find incredible primary and secondary sources. Wikipedia is a research tool and should never appear on your bibliography as a historical source.
Revolutions often began with a government that acted without regard for the needs of a significant segment of society. For example, the Stuart monarchs in England attempted to raise taxes illegally without the consent of Parliament, a political conflict that would soon alienate the middle class gentry and divide England into armed camps of Royalist and Parliamentary supporters. As both the American and French Revolutions demonstrated, there is usually a group of discontented middle class members of society who galvanize support against arbitrary government policies, and they will often mobilize the masses of laborers in a climactic event – such as the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor, or the storming of the Bastille – to force the conservative members of the government to allow moderate gains.
In most cases, the period of moderation does not last. Frequently a radical group will emerge and wrest power away from the moderates. In the example from the French Revolution, this was known as the Reign of Terror. The Jacobins effectively mobilized the working class sans-culottes of France to remove all opposition and established a republic founded upon the blood of the guillotine. During the Reign of Terror, a revolution was at its most radical stage, and it was a period in which absolute love of nation was required above all other devotions – including religious devotion –to remove all enemies. The National Socialist revolution in 1930s Germany created the idea of demonic rivals around every corner, enemies (namely Communist, Jews, homosexuals, and the mentally or morally “infirm”) that the Nazis said needed to be eliminated in the name of purifying the German Reich.
There are important questions to ask of any revolution: When is the revolution over? How did society change? Was the society better? Did the changes indicate progress? Or, did the society suffer and were the results more negative than positive? These are the “So what?” questions that beg the NHD student to explain the significance of the revolution. As an example, the British Glorious Revolution of 1688 demonstrated that the Parliament had established Constitutionalism, which markedly differed from European Absolutism, thus demonstrating progress. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet Union in 1989 may be interpreted as the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Not all revolutions involve bloodshed, the toppling of antiquated regimes, or the removal of religion in favor of zealous love of the nation. Many of the most profound revolutions have occurred simply through the publication of a book, the spread of an idea, or the development of a new theory – all of which can have both dramatic and even dangerous, impacts on society. History is full of revolutionary ideas, and what made these ideas revolutionary is the fact that they challenged the status quo, destroyed old ways of thought, and ushered in new eras of thinking – a process that Georg Hegel refers to as “dialectics”. The world once stood still – or so everyone thought.
Nicolas Copernicus’s Heliocentric Theory of the universe argued that the Earth was not immobile, but moving constantly around a stationary sun. In just over a century, Sir Isaac Newton would prove through mathematics and experimentation that not only was Copernicus right, but that a thousand years of scientific philosophy had been wrong – nothing short of revolutionary! To what degree were these changes the result of their individual genius or the structure of scientific knowledge at the time? The Enlightenment was a time period in which liberal philosophes challenged the standard theories of government, religion, economics, and society, and applied progressive ideas intended to better society. Thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau were jailed; they were censored; their books were burned; but the intellectual spark that they ignited set the modern world ablaze with new ideas that bettered governments and societies. If the Enlightenment is the structure by which these ideas took root, to what degree are the philosophes responsible for shaping the events? The cottage industries of Europe could never produce enough goods to meet the demand of large markets, thus the ability of modern capitalist business owners to harness the power of coal, steam, and labor in the Industrial Revolution not only allowed industrial nations to exceed existing demands for products, but also allowed them to spread their influence around the world. The workers of the industrial world had been subjected to dangerous and oppressive working and living conditions, and it seemed as though their governments were unconcerned. What roles did the leaders play in the shaping of events and bringing about the change? What were the courses of events and how did things change, for either better or worse (or perhaps both)? Societies and ideas often undergo a metamorphosis; however, this process often requires revolutionary changes to foster evolutionary progress. Whether they begin with a mob, a musket, a theory, or a pen, a revolution clashes with the status quo and brings about dramatic change. From the agricultural revolution to the information revolution, European and world history provides particularly fertile ground for the NHD student to analyze the causes, players, and course of revolutions.
Authors: Thomas C. Rust, Ph.D. is the Montana Affiliate Coordinator and assistant professor of history at Montana State University at Billings. Shane Fairbanks is a European advanced placement teacher at Billings Central Catholic High School, Billings Montana.
(This is an excerpt. To read the full article, log on to NHD.org.)
Primary sources are not just old documents, pictures, and stories they are so much more!
Letters, diaries, autobiographies, and journals provide personal information about people and events. For example, by reading Anne Frank’s diary you can get a first-hand account of how it was like to be Jewish living under the Nazis. It is your job to pull out the information that is relevant to your topic. Government and military documents, church records, cemetery logs, and maps may seem a little boring but are full of information.
Take, for instance, a census. Even though it may look like a bunch of statistics, if you look close enough to make some conclusions such as seeing patterns of immigrants from certain countries and where they immigrated to. Artifacts allow you to visually see what you have been researching. For example, seeing a picture of a food line during the Great Depression you will able to see the sadness and desperation in the face of the people waiting to get served their food. Historic sites are a great primary source plus it gives you an excuse to get out of the library and go on a little trip. Usually at historic sites there are artifacts there that can help you with your project. Oral histories or interviews are one of the most personal types of primary sources. For example, you can interview a local World War II veteran or find a place, such as a historical society, which has recorded interviews.
So now that you have all this information, go have fun with your primary sources.
-Ali, Delaware Historical Society Intern
When doing research for your National History Day project you will encounter many primary sources. These sources are essential to your project. They give you first hand accounts about your topic. Considering there are varied amounts of primary sources you can use each one in a way that will give your project the “wow” factor.
Here are some examples of primary sources and how you can use them to their greatest advantages. Personal records such as letters, diaries, photo albums, and scrapbooks could help you learn about values, attitudes, first-hand accounts of historical events, uses of technology, and more. These resources are probably located at local historical societies. Records from organizations and businesses such as inventories, cemetery records, travel brochures, school records, yearbooks, and union records are all great primary sources. They all show different types of history such as economic and educational. Public organizations such as schools, business, and historical societies would be where you can find these sources.
Paintings, drawings, blueprints, photographs, and other visual records are great primary sources especially if you are doing a documentary or an exhibit. It allows you to get a realistic view into the time period in which you are studying. Art museums and historical societies would a great place to look for these sources. Newspaper and magazines can help you gain information about an event or historical era from writers who may have witnessed the event. Many libraries and historical societies contain copies of old newspapers.
Interviews are a great primary source. They give first-hand accounts of important people or events. You can conduct your own interviews or some maybe pre-recorded and found at your local historical societies.
Now to my personal favorite primary sources, (I know how cool am I that I have a favorite primary source) pop culture sources. These sources consist of music, advertisements, old TV shows, magazines, and books. These sources show the values of a certain time period. These sources can also be found in historical societies and libraries.
Government records such as trade agreements, treaties, census data, and court proceedings allow you to see how the government dealt with various issues. Local government information is found in local historical societies, while government records are found at the National Archives. Maps, genealogies, doctoral dissertations, or other academic sources can be full with useful data. Libraries and historical societies would be the best place to find these sources. Now go out and go find yourself some amazing primary sources!
-Ali, Delaware Historical Society Intern
So I just came back from the University of Delaware library to see if they would have any good resources to meet this year’s theme; Innovation in History: Impact and Change. I went to the Reference room desk and talked to a really nice librarian, Rebecca Knight. She was really helpful and informative. So I thought I would share what she told me with you.
First off you have to be eighteen years or older to check out a book from the library. If you are not, I suggest you go with someone who is (parent, older sibling) so they can take out the book. Before you go to the library there is a way to check if the UD library contains the electronic reserves that you may need. Go to http://www.udel.edu. Go to the libraries tab on the top and click on Morris Library. Once you are there on the top it says Subject Guides, click on that. From there click on History and then Resources for National History Day (third from the bottom). Look around this site. It was made especially to help you and there truly are some great resources on this site.
The electronic reserves are a great place to look for primary documents. For example, they have maps and pictures which could be great for any exhibit, documentary, or paper. In Databases, I clicked on the New York Times and searched DuPont – Nylon. I found all of these old advertisements from the 1940s about socks made with DuPont Nylon. I thought that was so cool. But in order for you to print out these resources, you have to go the University of Delaware Library. It does cost to print there, but it’s totally worth it.
I also learned the University has a collection of patents online. If you are doing a certain invention and know the patent number, you can search it and see the original patent, what a great primary source! There is also a section of the library called juvenile literature: they may have great secondary sources in that section. If you’re interested in visiting the special collections, make sure they have resources related to your topic first. There are a lot of regulations that go along with special collections so look those up at the library website and email the librarian if you have any questions.
And remember don’t be afraid to ask a librarian for help. They are there for a reason. I have done many a research projects at UD and it wasn’t for the librarian my 25 page papers wouldn’t have been as good as they were without their assistance.
Ali, Delaware Historical Society intern
As every great History Day student knows there are two types of sources; primary and secondary.
I am not going to lie – even as a History Education major in my senior year of college sometimes even I get confused whether a source is primary or secondary. A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment. A primary source can be a written document created by someone in the past. Some examples of a primary source are an object, place, song, or other cultural artifact created during the historical period you are studying.
A secondary source is not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era. Secondary sources are usually created by historians, but based on the historian’s reading of primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written decades, or maybe even centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue.
An example of a source that can be tricky to decide if it is primary or secondary is an interview. An interview that is considered a primary source is one that is with people who lived through the time period you are studying and participated in the events and social patterns of that period. An interview that is considered a secondary source is one with a university professor or any other type of expert on a topic may provide valuable information that could be included in a research project. True, they may know a lot about your topic but they are usually not eyewitnesses, participants, or contemporaries commenting on the moment or event. Even though this interview is a face-to-face experience, it is not considered primary because the person was not there. Although it may seem that primary sources are more important then secondary sources, in actuality they are equally important. Secondary sources help provide a historical context for your topic, they help refine your topic, they help you clarify a topic or idea, and they can lead you to other sources.
-Ali, Delaware Historical Society intern
Research is driven by questions; not just any old questions but good ones.
These questions should stem from your curiosity and at the same time you should be thinking like a historian. The following are examples which are good questions: When did my topic occur in history? Where did my topic occur? What causes led up to my topic? How does my topic fir into the broader context of what was happening in history at the time? What effects did my topic have at the time and for the future? How did the issues surrounding my topic change over time? What impact or influence did my topic have on the nation of the world? Why is my topic significant today?
One thing that is important to keep in mind is the connection of your topic to the National History Day theme. Creating a statement between your topic and the theme can help you make sure that your topic meets the theme. Here’s an example. History Day theme= Turning Points in History Basic Interest Area= Civil War Narrowed Subject= Battle of Gettysburg Main idea to connect topic to theme= the Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point of the Civil War because the Union began to gain advantage over the South. Now from this you can start working on a title. The title of your research should include both the overall topic and the specific issue of your work. For example, The Battle of Gettysburg: Turning the Tides of War.
Ali, Delaware Historical Society Intern
Sources, sources, sources…. You will probably heard that word so many times during your History Day project that it may just drive you crazy. But what exactly is a source?
A source is any provider on information used to interpret a topic. It is your job as a researcher to seek, locate, and find information from a variety of sources. By bringing together large amounts of information you can finally see the big picture. Think of yourself sort of as a history detective (probably the coolest job ever) putting together all this information to tell one cohesive historical story. The best way to start any process is to start with something you are familiar with, and the same goes for research. So, start with sources you are accustomed to; articles, encyclopedia, books, and dictionaries.
I know….you are all probably thinking why didn’t I list the internet – the source we are all probably most comfortable with. Well, let me tell you why. It is true the internet has a lot of information, but how do you know which is correct or not? Anyone can make a website and put whatever information they want on it. For example, I can make a website about myself saying that I am a billionaire who lives in a mansion with three swimming pools. If you just googled me not knowing anything about me you might believe that. Even though I wish that was true, it is not. So that is why I would start your beginning research with the other sources first.
When you are looking at these beginning sources don’t forget to write down its bibliographical information. The worst feeling is after your down with your project is that you have to hunt down a source because you forgot to write down its publisher. If you use something from a source without sighting it that is considered plagiarism, and we all want to stay away from that.
When you are reading these sources keep these following questions in mind: What similarities does my topic have to the time period? Is the issue I am studying confined to one time period? How is my topic connected to what I have learned in my history class? What other issues of time might affect my topic? After doing all this research you should have a general idea if you are interested in your topic or not. If you aren’t this is the last time to switch topics before you really start getting into the research project.
Ali, Delaware Historical Society Intern