Illinois History Day
As the state affiliate of the National History Day program, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum oversees the Illinois History Day competitions across the state each year. Seeking to cultivate the development of young historians and inspire a love of history, Illinois History Day asks students to choose a topic related to National History Day’s annual theme and conduct research on the topic using the collections in libraries, archives and museums, collect oral histories or interviews, and visit historical sites. . After participants collect enough sources to answer their research question, they craft an interpretive project using one of five formats: paper, exhibit, performance, documentary, or website.
Illinois students compete in two divisions, Junior (6th-8th grade) and Senior (9th -12th), across four regions -- Northern, Central, Southern, and Chicago Metro. Within each of these regions, students participate in local and regional competitions to determine who will advance to the state competition held in Springfield each spring. Students who rank highest at the state competition advance to the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland. At the national competition, Illinois students compete against students from 57 other affiliate National History Day states and regions.
Before a student begins a project for the Illinois History Day competition, we recommend they, their adults, and their teachers review the current NHD Rule Book and the 2022-2023 NHD Theme Book. These resources will help them select a topic and decide what type of project they want to create. These books also provide guidance for parents and educators on how best to support participants as they develop their projects.
For a clear summary of contest changes this year, we recommend reviewing the Major Changes to the Rule Book (2020) document.
Choosing a Topic
Deciding on a topic can seem like a daunting task, but don’t stress! Think about people, events, or problems in history that interest you and start making a list. Use the NHD annual theme to help you narrow down this list. If you still cannot decide, do some basic research on the topics you find most interesting. You may also want to talk to relatives, teachers, or family friends that lived through these events.
After you’ve begun researching a few topics, look at the resources you’ve found and consider how excited you are about each topic. From your list narrow it down to one topic. Make sure you are passionate about the topic you pick! Next, write a few good questions that show what you still want to learn about your topic. Pick one and start researching the answer to your question.
If, at any time, you find that the topic you chose is too broad, go back to your research questions and narrow them down to a specific event, person, or date. This will help make your topic more manageable when you get further into your research.
For example, if you are interested in World War II, you may want to look at a specific battle or event that occurred within the war, instead of the whole war. It’s also important to make sure you can justify how your chosen topic connects to the annual NHD theme. Continuing with the World War II example, you might want to focus on the debates around President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb as this would be a narrow, focused topic that connects to 2022’s theme of
Once you have selected a topic and are ready to move forward with your Illinois History Day project, visit the Creating a Project section below for resources to help create the best project!
Why Teach Illinois History Day?
Illinois History Day is a highly adaptable and impactful program that can be implemented in a multitude of ways to fit your classroom environment and curricular goals. Whether it be in person, virtual, hybrid, or in the home, Illinois History Day provides opportunities for your students to engage in hands-on inquiry-based learning and apply historical thinking skills.
In selecting a topic and creating a project for IHD, your students develop their critical thinking, reading, research, and communication skills while simultaneously building habits of personal responsibility and agency.
Educators who implement a History Day program in their classrooms report countless benefits, such as:
- History Day allows students to achieve success on their own terms.
- The competition empowers students to make their own choices as they take ownership of their projects through the selection of their topic, independent research, and choosing a competition category.
- History Day meets state Social Studies and ELA standards.
- History Day encourages students to develop historical thinking skills and delve deeper into a topic of their choice.
Sign up or the Illinois History Day mailing list to stay up to date on important information.
If you want to learn more about how History Day can benefit you and your students, please email us at ALPLM.IHD@Illinois.gov.
Parents and Guardians
As a parent or guardian of a student participating in Illinois History Day you will have the exciting opportunity to watch your child grow and hone their skills as a historian. During the process you may find you need to step in and assist, whether it be through fixing technological issues, helping your child finish an annotated bibliography, or by providing transportation to events or places of research. It should come as no surprise that you play a critical role in the success of your student as they work through their History Day projects!
Please note that your child’s teachers may adapt History Day to meet their classroom needs. This means that requirements, deadlines, and grading rubrics may vary across classrooms. Any questions you may have about your child’s project or school-level competition should be directed to assigning teacher. If you have questions regarding Regional, State, or National competitions, please contact us at ALPLM.IHD@Illinois.gov.
To help your child develop a successful project, we compiled materials to assist them across all stages of the project. These materials can be found under the Creating a Project tab below.
Please note, students who are enrolled in school but whose teachers are not sponsoring a History Day competition can still participate. They will need to register as an Independent Scholar and can compete in the Regional competition without a formal sponsoring school.
If you homeschool and want your child to participate in History Day, please reach out to the affiliate coordinator at ALPLM.IHD@Illinois.gov for more information on contests and registration.
Creating a Project
Once you’ve followed the instructions in the Students section to select a topic, we recommend you use this section as a Hub to assist you as you develop and complete your project.
NHD Rulebook and Themebook
Before you begin developing your project, make sure you understand the rules of the competition as they explain the ins, the outs, and everything in between that you need to know. You should also take the time to review this year’s theme book to ensure your topic connects with the current theme.
Documentaries provide a great opportunity for you to work with technology and film-making software. Once you are ready to present your research, you will write a script and find images and other multimedia sources to create a short film on your topic. If you are unsure if you can create a documentary due to lack of access to the necessary technology and software, check with your teacher to see what resources are available to you. It’s also important to make sure you choose multimedia sources that aren’t copyrighted.
Below are tools that will help you as you create your documentary:
Documentary Evaluation Form
Exhibits can be created individually or with a group. To complete an exhibit, you will create a display (similar to what you would see in a museum, but smaller) on your chosen topic. This is a great option for students who enjoy expressing their creativity through graphic design and hands-on experiences. To create an exhibit you will utilize documents, pictures, and objects, along with your own voice, to tell the story of your topic.
Below are tools that will help you create your exhibit:
Exhibit Evaluation Form
Research papers are great if you prefer to work solo and want to showcase your writing abilities. Papers have a longer word limit than the other categories and allow more room for you to argue and relate your topic to the current theme.
Below are tools the will help you write your paper:
Paper Evaluation Form
Performances are a great category if you enjoy acting and expressing yourself in a theatrical production. After completing research, you will write a script that includes characters, scenes, and dialogue to support and prove your argument. Many students create simple sets, costumes, and props to help tell their story. Performances can be done either solo or in a group.
Below are tools that will help you create your performance:
Performance Evaluation Form
A website allows you to capture your stories through a combination of images, words, and videos built on an accessible online platform. This category is great for students who are interested in technology and computers. The website allows you to display your technological skills while also capturing the historical importance of your topic. Websites can be completed either on your own or in a group. As with documentaries, it’s important that you choose images and films that aren’t copyrighted.
Below are tools the will help you create your website:
Website Evaluation Form
The student resources tab is developed to aid you in the development of your project. Providing you access to databases to source primary and secondary documents that relate to your topic and guides as to how to properly cite your sources in either MLA or Chicago formats.
Databases & Original Records
The ALPLM’s collections includes extensive sources related to President Lincoln and many topics from Illinois History. Our collections include physical artifacts, manuscripts, audio/visual resources, and numerous bound volumes. To learn more on how to access these resources please view the Library Research Overview page.
For those with topics that don't fit under the scope of the ALPLM's resources, NHD has provided a resourceful compilation of online databases that will assist you as you research your topic. Once you've reached the Student Resources Portal, select Helpful Research Links to access resources that have been sorted to help you find what you need for your project.
If students will do most of their research online, please see the Finding Original Records handout we created for student researchers.
If you need assistance or have further questions about accessing and utilizing resources to research your topic, please email ALPLM.Education@Illinios.gov.
As you conduct your research and gather your primary and secondary sources you will need to cite them in an annotated bibliography. For Illinois History Day you can choose to format your citations in either MLA or Chicago styles.
See the resources below if you need help creating an annotated bibliography:
To learn more about the competitions, please see the specific contest tabs below.
The 2022 competitions will be held on the following dates:
- Central Regional
- Millikin University, Saturday, March 4, 2023
- Chicago Metro
- Chicago History Museum, Saturday, March 12, 2022 (Junior)
- University of Illinois Chicago, Wednesday March 16, 2022 (Senior)
- Virtual March 18-25, 2022
- Northern Regional
- Northern Illinois University, Saturday, February 18, 2023
- Southern Regional
- Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Saturday, March 25, 2023
The State competition will be held at the University of Illinois at Springfield on Saturday, April 22, 2023.
Registration deadline is March 31, 2023.
More information to come regarding day of scheduling.
National History Day Information:
Registration Opening Date: TBD
Registration Closing Date: TBD
Website Lock-Out Date: TBD
Project Upload Date: TBD
Virtual National Contest will be June 11-15, 2023.
Student Registration Fee: $150
No Teacher Registration Fee
National Contest Registration Instructions will be sent out in late February/early March.
If you are an educator, student, or parent who wants to know more about Illinois History Day, or are interested in helping judge competitions, email ALPLM.Education@Illinois.gov for more information. If you don’t have a specific question, but would like to stay in the loop, sign up for the IHD listserv.