National History Day

Department of History

History leaps off the pages of books and into the lives of middle and high school students during National History Day, a year-long education program for middle and high school students that engages both educators and students to improve the teaching and learning of history. For more than a decade, the UT Department of History has partnered with the East Tennessee Historical Society to support history teachers and their students across the state.

National History Day

In Tennessee, more than 7,250 students participate. Throughout their research, students uncover untold stories, form special connections with people from the past, and discover that history impacts everyone. Participating students improve their research techniques, writing skills, historical knowledge, creativity, literacy, communication, civic engagement, and college readiness.

“National History Day provides students an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and source analysis skills while gaining historical perspective,” said Lisa Oakely, East Tennessee NHD regional coordinator and curator of education at the East Tennessee Historical Society.

The largest component of National History Day is a project-based contest, which encourages middle and high school students to conduct original research on historical topics of interest. Guided by an annual theme, students choose a topic that matches their personal interest. For months, participants research the topic and present it in one of five categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, and website.

“The National History Day Contest inspires students to challenge themselves,” said Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day. “Students become deeply invested in their projects and spend countless hours researching, creating, and revising. The work they produce is often astounding and the skills they gain will benefit them far into the future.”

In 2002, the UT Department of History and the East Tennessee Historical Society entered a partnership to co-sponsor the East Tennessee regional contest on the UT campus. More than 3,000 students participate in the East Tennessee Regional competition at the school level and more than 300 students from 28 schools advance to compete for the opportunity to represent the East Tennessee Region in the state contest.

“History Day directly connects the UT history department to the community it serves,” said Daniel Feller, professor of history and faculty advisor for the event. “It gives students not only an opportunity for expert criticism and assistance with their projects, but a chance to meet actual historians and scholars with national and international reputations. For us in the department, it provides an opportunity to be directly useful to our neighbors and fellow citizens and to encourage their love for history and interest in pursuing it.”