Selecting a Topic

One of the most important parts of successful research (especially in the case of History Day) is the selection of a topic. You will be “hanging out” with your topic for much of the school year – possibly all of 8th grade!  You need to pick a topic that relates to the theme and be able to explain its significance in history. Your topic must also be one that has enough information available (especially primary sources) for you to make a decent research project. Of equal importance, it is important to pick a topic that is narrow enough to allow you to limit your research. A unique project is always beneficial as well, since you will not need to compete for resources and also your research won’t be unintentionally compared to someone else’s. Finally, you must also select a topic that interests you. It’s incredibly difficult to research information that you simply dislike!

Since the topic selection is so critical to your success in this endeavor, you will have a decent amount of time to pick one that suits your interests. Start with a big idea in history that interests you (the Civil War, women’s rights, the Depression, music, Hollywood, sports, etc.) and find a general book about that idea. As you browse through the book, look for interesting subtopics that also apply to the National History Day theme of “Taking a Stand in History”.   Brainstorm, chat with Doc, Taft, Mrs. E, and your parents, and try to find a few possible topics that may work and then do a quick internet search on each. You should also check the online catalog at school and the local public library for the availability of books and videos on your possible topics.

You also want to make sure your topic is narrow. You are not doing a project on the complete biography of an individual, an overview of an event, or an explanation of an idea. Instead, you want to explain the significance of a person, event or idea and how it is related to the theme for the year . In order to do so successfully, you need to have a narrow or specific topic.  For example, let’s say that you are interested in sports. You watched the Olympics this summer, and you remember seeing something about these two guys that raised their fists on the medal stand.  You decide to look through a library book about the Olympics, which tells you more about John Carlos and Tommy Smith.  You do a quick google search and find some links to books about the two men, newspaper articles, and interviews on You Tube.  Can you make this apply to the theme of  “Taking a Stand in History”? Absolutely! Now it’s time to get to some research, ask great questions, and seek some answers.  You are just starting – but now you have a great narrow topic!

You may also take a look at the sample topics available online.  The topics are from a variety of sources, and some are a bit more specific than others.  NHD offers some suggestions, and the Wisconsin Historical Society has some possible local topics as well.

Whatever topic you choose, make sure that your topic is:

  • related to the theme!
  • significant in history!
  • researchable (with a lot of primary sources)!
  • narrow enough!
  • unique!
  • interesting to you (and your partners)!

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