11 August 2022 — It's a New Year—and a New Theme—for National History Day

September is just around the corner, and that means a new school year is about to begin. Do you have a middle school or high school student in your life, be it a son or daughter, grandchild, niece or nephew, or friend of the family? Or are you in the field of education, able to reach out to many students? We really hope that you take this opportunity to spread the news about National History Day. 

Originally conceived by Case Western University professor David Van Tassel as a competition similar to the science fair model, following the process of research, analysis, drawing conclusions, and presenting one’s findings, today National History Day (NHD) is the name of the annual competition encouraging students to explore a historical topic in more depth. It is also the name of the nonprofit organization that runs the competition. Half a million students participate in the program, which spans an academic year. 

Students can compete individually, or in groups. Here, California high schoolers Haleigh Allred, Mckenna Lee, Andrew Clark, and Diego Maldonado, winners of the second place senior competition for their documentary On the Edge: Diplomacy of 1962 Prevents Nuclear Destructiontake a break for a celebratory photo.

Student projects can take the form of a documentary, exhibit, research paper, performance, or website; students can compete individually or as part of a group of up to five members. Students compete at local levels, and selected regional winners advance to the national contest. Each year is assigned a general theme; the 2022-23 theme is Frontiers in History.

Merriam-Webster gives us several definitions of the word frontier, including:

  • a border between two countries
  • a region that forms the margin of settled or developed territory
  • the farthermost limits of knowledge or achievement in a particular subject
  • a new field for exploitative or developmental activity

That list covers a lot of possible historical research topics! To help students get started, NHD has made helpful booklets and videos with guidance on the theme, selecting a topic, and competition rules. 

placeholder image from 2023 theme introduction video Frontiers in History

What are the possibilities of the theme Frontiers in History? National History Day has produced this video to get the ball rolling.

But Wait—There’s More!

Back in 2010, NMHS saw an opportunity to use National History Day as a means of getting students more interested in maritime history, and created a special award for National History Day projects with a maritime focus. Since that time, participation in the NMHS award competition has grown—some years we have had as many as 24 participating states, along with the District of Columbia. 

Students are invited to participate, individually or in groups, at either the Junior (middle school) or Senior (high school) level. NMHS awards first-place competitors a $100 cash scholarship (divided equally among participants if a group effort), a one-year membership in NMHS (which includes Sea History magazine), recognition on the NMHS website, and a certificate of achievement. For second place, there is a $50 cash scholarship and the same additional benefits.  The mentoring teacher of first- and second-place projects will also receive a one-year membership in NMHS and recognition on the NMHS website. Take a look at the inspiring winners of the 2021-2022 contest!

Etta Shalaty, first-place senior, Washington, DC, presents her National History Day project “What to Find on the Indian Ocean Trade Route.”

So please help us by spreading the word about the NMHS National History Day awards in maritime history. Even if you don’t have middle or high schoolers in your life, you can still lend a hand by brainstorming and sending us your ideas of topics in maritime history that would fit well with the theme of Frontiers in History. Expeditions of exploration in a canoe, or sailing ship? Expanding our knowledge of the sea by investigating the ocean’s depths? Or the frontier of technology, introducing steam propulsion, diesel, or nuclear power? We hope to add your suggestions to the list on our webpage, to give students a few ideas to start with.

We’re looking forward to the new school year, and to seeing what this year’s National History Day participants will create and share. 


Sea History Today is written by Shelley Reid, NMHS senior staff writer. Past issues can be read online by clicking here.

National Maritime Historical Society

1000 N. Division Street, Suite #4

Peekskill, NY 10566

(914) 737-7878  



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