Who else does History Day?
Some students participate as part of history class. Others do History Day as an independent project or for extra credit. Students in schools and home schools participate. Creating a project for Vermont History Day can help you learn history and new skills!
What is the theme this year?
The 2016 theme is "Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History." Your project can be about Vermont history, US history or world history - but it must relate to the theme. The theme is broad and open to varying levels of interpretation. Exploration can involve travel to new places, but it can also relate to new ideas in science or new methods of communication. Encounter involves interactions between people and places, both positive and negative. Exchange can involve money, ideas, culture or trade. You do not have to address all three elements of the theme, but some topics might relate to two or even all three parts of the theme.
Can you give me an example of a topic that fits the theme?
One potential topic in Vermont history would be to focus on the life and work of Martha Johnson, a teacher from Peacham who ran a school for formerly enslaved people in South Carolina during the Civil War. The Vermont Historical Society has a collection of letters from Martha Johnson to her family.
By reading these primary sources, you can learn how she explored an unfamiliar place as part of her job for the National Freedman’s Relief Association. She encountered formerly enslaved people who had worked on the plantations, people who had been emancipated by the Union Army’s occupation of South Carolina islands. She exchanged ideas with them, teaching children and adults to read and write, and learning about their traditions and experiences. You can find out a lot by reading her letters.
But you also need to understand the big picture (context) of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Martha Johnson’s actions were part of a larger movement, based in religion and belief in the abolition of slavery, to help enslaved people transition to freedom. Historians look at significance – what was the point of Martha Johnson’s exploration, encounter and exchange in South Carolina in the 1860s? Did the National Freedman’s Relief Association and similar organizations make a difference during Reconstruction?
A good History Day project includes research and analysis and investigates what happened, how things changed (or didn't change), and why this topic happened at this place and at this time. Historians examine the context of an event by looking at the time and place. A good History Day project also looks at the significance of the story and answers the question "So what?" Why is this story important to tell?
When you create a History Day project, you are the historian and you get to decide the direction of your research based on your interests and ideas. You can support your argument with evidence from primary and secondary sources. You get to explore the ideas of exploration, encounter and exchange within the topic you have chosen.
What is a primary source and why do I need to use them?
Primary sources are the building blocks of history that help us know what happened in the past.
A primary source for this topic would be the papers of Martha Johnson. This finding aid describes what resources are in the papers. You could also read the transcripts of the letters she wrote. You can search for related primary sources at the Library of Congress, such as this document "Education Among the Freedman."
Secondary sources are also important to understand the context and significance of the topic. This website provides more information about the Port Royal Experiment and other people who were involved in similar schools.
Historians – and History Day students – use both primary and secondary sources to know what happened and to develop our own interpretations of the past.
Learn more about primary sources and where to find them online.
What are some other Vermont topics that fit the theme?
Read this list of possible Vermont topics (PDF).
Where can I go in Vermont to find primary sources?
Many museums, libraries and archives have primary sources like diaries, letters, maps and photographs. The Vermont Historical Society library and archives has a great collection of primary sources. Some of these are even available online. There are many museums and libraries in Vermont that have primary source collections (PDF).
What type of project should I do?
There are five categories for History Day projects. You should choose the category that best matches with your strengths. If you are artistic, you might want to create an exhibit or a performance. If you are good with computers, you could make a website or documentary. And if you like to write, you might want to do a research paper. All of the categories require research - and a bibliography. If you need more help deciding, see what National History Day has to say about starting a project and conducting research. You also need to decide whether you want to create an individual entry or a group entry - with a group of 2 to 5 students. (Papers must be individual projects.)
Are there rules I need to follow to create my entry?
Yes, there are rules about things like how many words can be in your exhibit (500) or how long your documentary can be (10 minutes). Click here for the official rule book. The rule book has been updated for 2014/15 and contains several new rules. Please read the summary of rule changes (PDF). And if you want to make a website, you must create your entry using the NHD/Weebly portal.
What will judging at the Vermont History Day contest be like?
At the state contest, you will talk with two or three judges about your project. They will probably ask you questions like why did you choose your topic and what did you learn from your research. The judges will also provide feedback about your entry - which is really helpful if you qualify for National History Day. Click here for more information about what the judges will be looking for.
Can I win any prizes?
The main reason to participate in History Day is to learn! But there are some prizes. The top two entries in each category with an superior or excellent rating qualify to attend National History Day in June in College Park, Maryland. (Each category is also split into Junior and Senior divisions, so you are competing against students your own age.) There are also Special Prizes, some of which offer prize money that some students use to pay for their trip to National History Day.
Do you have any resources about creating History Day projects?
We do - and you can borrow them from our lending library. Check out the list of helpful books and videos.
Can I get some feedback or suggestions before the contest?
Yes! Come to the Student Help & Research Day (PDF) on Saturday, February 13, 2016 at the Vermont History Center in Barre. Help will be available from 10:00-4:00. You can also research at the Vermont Historical Society Library that day if your project involves Vermont history.
What's the deadline to enter Vermont History Day?
March 8, 2016 is the registration deadline. The entry fee is $8.00 for per student. For example, the registration fee for a group of 2 is $16.00 and the fee for a group of 5 is $40.00.