The Experience of Writing the NHD Research Paper

National History Day (NHD) is a day when students create a historical project either in the form of a documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or a student-made website.  Here at AITE, all students in AP US History (APUSH) classes are required to write a historical research paper on a significant event in American history. The theme for this year’s contest is Debate and Diplomacy in History and the project is due in May.

The process begins in the summer assignment for APUSH where students have to write a prospectus to propose three topics for their NHD Paper which they will submit to the APUSH teacher on the first day of the class in the fall. The summer assignment asks students to be specific as it is easier to research and write about a more specific topic. 

Then, once the students have submitted their prospectus, the teacher selects the topic from the the three options, sometimes suggesting slight changes before final approval. The paper takes most of the year to write because students have to submit a title page, a 500-word process paper, a 2,500-word historical paper, and an annotated bibliography with primary sources and secondary sources.

History teachers Claude Morest and Dr. Nicholas DeAntonis run this project every year with their APUSH students.

When DeAntonis began teaching the class several years ago, he felt the project was an important part of the curriculum and wanted to continue assigning it to his own APUSH classes. “It lays the foundation of research paper writing, which is an important skill for college, ” said DeAntonis. He emphasized the practical research building skills the project helps students hone, and he likes the “detective part” of researching a topic, “which leads to more questions and answers, which you can find in archives,” he said. “The experience of going to a library and physically looking at historical documents is a unique experience that students should hopefully get out of [the project]. It’s a way to go beyond a traditional textbook,” he said.

Morest, who teaches the other APUSH section, also emphasized the importance of the NHD paper. “It’s important for students to do a big research paper in high school and it’s even better to do the National History Competition because the prizes motivate kids to write better,” said Morest. Like DeAntonis, Morest feels the process of writing this paper is an important experience for students heading to college.

Two juniors in DeAntonis’ class, Gil Vadel and Luke Vander Kolk, are writing NHD papers this year.  Vadel’s topic is the attempted boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games. “I was inspired by the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. I saw the symbolism of what the U.S. and other countries around the world were doing, and I wondered if the Olympics had been boycotted before,” said Vadel. “I’ve become an expert on the 1936 Olympics after researching it for months. The debate between fighting Nazi discrimination and separating sports and politics was very interesting. I also learned how to write a historical research paper which will be very useful in college and beyond” he said.

Vander Kolk’s topic is the debate over American involvement in the Spanish American War. “While reading through the textbook, the Spanish-American War was downplayed. I now know more about the war and its lasting impact on the United States,” said Vander Kolk. 

In addition to a deeper knowledge of history, Vander Kolk also learned some valuable skills from this process. He learned “time management, organizing, planning, and how to overall write a paper that will be useful for college and my future,” he said.