Skip to main content
Sign In

National History Day in Colorado

Rules and Guidelines

What disqualifies a project?  1. Plagiarism, and 2. If a previous year's project is resubmitted.


 *This site includes information from the NHD Contest Rule Book plus additional tips from the State Office.

Download official NHD Contest Rule Book

Click here to access the Rule Book in Spanish.


Getting Started


Historical Context: The intellectual, physical, social, and cultural setting in which events take place.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is using the work or ideas of others in ways that give the impression that these are your own (e.g., copying information word-for-word without using quotations and footnotes, paraphrasing an author's ideas, or using visuals or music without giving proper credit).

Primary Sources (See also Research Skills ): Primary sources are materials directly related to a topic by time or participation. These materials include letters, speeches, diaries, newspaper articles from the time, oral history interviews, documents, photographs, artifacts, or anything else that provides first-hand accounts about a person or event. An interview with an expert (a professor of Civil War history, for example) is not a primary source. Quotations from historical figures in secondary sources are not considered primary.

Secondary Sources (See also Research Skills ): Secondary sources are usually published books or articles by authors who base their interpretations on primary sources.

Citation Style Guides: Style for citations and bibliographic references must follow the principles in one of the following style guides:

  • Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations ; or
  • the style guide of the Modern Language Association of America (MLA)

We recommend that you use Turabian, which is the standard style used by professional historians. Regardless of which manual you use, the style must be consistent throughout the paper. Click here to link to sample citations using Turabian style.

Tips from your state office

The "So-What" Factor

THEMES: You may select a topic on any aspect of local, regional, national, or world history. Regardless of the topic chosen, the presentation of your research and conclusions must clearly relate to the annual theme. Manage your topic - Make it narrow enough to focus your research and interpretation on issues that can be explained and interpreted within the category limits of size and time.

TOPICS: Effective entries not only describe an event or a development, they also analyze and place it in its historical context.

1. Choose 3 or 4 topics that look interesting to you, then step back and analyze them

2. While your favorite topic might be interesting and you may be able to find a great deal of material, does the information allow you to:

  • Place the topic in historical context that relates to the annual theme?
  • Analyze the social, economic, political, and cultural aspects of the individual and his/her time period? The individual that you focus on did not live in a vacuum. Can you make an argument for your topic that takes the reader/observer through all the significant changes?
  • Make an argument for your conclusions, supported by primary research?
  • Offer more than good "descriptions" (Who, What, When, Where, How)?
  • Answer the MOST important question - So What?

3. Are you able to make a clear and concise argument that shows:

  • How your topic is important?
  • How did it develop over time?
  • How did your topic influence history?
  • These 3 questions, in addition to the "So-What" factor, will help you draw conclusions about your topic's significance in history


4. We encourage you to select topics that really interest you. However, in order to be more competitive at the state and especially the national levels, please consider your topic carefully. Topics that focus on more recent individuals (particularly mid- to late-20th century) have had so little "history" that it is more difficult to make a significant "So-What" argument that includes the social, economic, political, and cultural influences. While not impossible to accomplish, such a topic places a significant burden on your research and analysis skills. Don't venture into "speculation" about "potential" influences without documented evidence to support your conclusions.

5. There are many popular topics that recur every year, no matter what the theme. Examples include various aspects of the Civil Rights movement, Jackie Robinson, sports and sporting equipment, etc. If you choose a popular, recurring topic, you should look for a new "twist" in order to make your project stand out. The historian is like a private detective looking for new clues that no one has ever discovered in order to shed new light on his/her subject.

This information is provided by NHDC and the NHD Contest Rule Book.