Who does History Day?

QueenVictoria2018Some 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. Maybe History Day could be part of your personalized learning plan. Creating a project for Vermont History Day can help you learn history and new skills!

Watch our Vermont History Day video.

What is the theme this year?

NHDTTsmThe 2019 theme is "Triumph and Tragedy in History." Your project can be about Vermont history, US history or world history - but it must relate to the theme. A triumph can be related to winning – like a fight for more rights. A triumph can also be an individual achievement, like succeeding against the odds. A tragedy can be a horrible event like a disaster or a personal loss. You may find that a single event is seen as a tragedy by some and a triumph by others. Whatever you choose, you should address both triumph AND tragedy, but you don't have to cover them equally.

Need more info about the theme? Check out the National History Day theme page, the 2019 Theme Sheet and sample topics, or the 2019 Theme Booklet!

Can you give me an example of a topic that fits the theme?

One example of a Vermont topic that fits the theme is the reapportionment of the Vermont legislature in 1966. Prior to 1965, each town in the state sent one representative to Montpelier. The US Supreme Court declared this system unconstitutional because it violated the 14th Amendment. In 1965, the Vermont House voted to change the balance of legislative districts so that representation is now based on population.

So how is this a both triumph and a tragedy? It depends on perspective.Philip H. Hoff for Vermont Governor poster 1962 sm

On one hand, a representative from a large town like Burlington represented 35,531 people (the population in 1960). But a representative from a small town like Baltimore represented 90 people. (How many people lived in your town in 1960?) If you lived in a large town, this might seem unfair.

Governor Phil Hoff, from Burlington, supported reapportionment. A newspaper (primary source) reported that “Hoff’s face broke into big grins as the final vote was taken.” Maybe he considered this a triumph – one that would lead to further changes in Vermont (as suggested by this secondary source article).

But some legislators saw that small towns would lose their vote in Montpelier. This oral history (primary source) records how Frank Hutchins, the representative from the small town of Stannard, cried during the debate. Maybe he considered this a tragedy – one that would change his community in the future.

Now we have a connection to the theme, some ideas for research about short-term and long-term impact, what about the bigger picture, the historical context? Why did the Supreme Court declare Vermont’s system of representation unconstitutional in 1965? What else was happening at that time related to voting rights and representation in the United States? Reaching further back, the Vermont Council of Censors had raised issues about imbalanced representation over 100 years earlier (see this secondary source).

In this case, Vermonters might see the same event as both a triumph and tragedy. If this were your topic, you could use your thesis and analysis to decide whether was more of a triumph or more of a tragedy. You could use the primary sources and secondary sources as the evidence to support your ideas.

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 how triumph and tragedy have changed history.

What is a primary source and why do I need to use them?

The Burlington Free Press Sat Aug 8 1964 smrPrimary sources are the building blocks of history that help us know what happened in the past. Newspaper articles from the time are a great way to understand what people thought about the reapportionment as it happened. This article from the Burlington Free Press on August 8, 1964 shows the sides of the issue before any decisions were made.

Secondary sources are also necessary to understand the context and significance of a topic. This page from the Freedom and Unity exhibit at the Vermont History Museum helps explain the bigger picture.

Sometimes primary sources are included in secondary sources. This webpage from the Vermont Folklife Center has oral histories (primary sources) from people who were directly involved in reapportionment. But the edited clips from primary sources are organized by Gregory Sharrow, the narrator. According to page 8 of the History Day rule book, sources like these are considered secondary sources.

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.

Practice analyzing, evaluating and citing primary sources at

What are some other Vermont topics that fit the theme?

Here are some additional ideas of Vermont topics that can be investigated through the lens of Triumph and Tragedy in History (follow the links for more information):

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 examples of projects?

AngloIrish2018The National History Day website has examples of projects in each category.  The Washington History Day website also has examples of winning entries from previous years. 

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 2014/15 rule book is the most recent. 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 the link 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 on February 9 at the Vermont Historical Society Library in Barre.


When is the deadline to enter Vermont History Day?

March 8, 2019 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.

Print and submit the entry form (pdf). Or use the online registration system. See the Important Dates page for all the details.


If you have any more questions, contact Victoria at (802) 828-1413 or email