National History Day 2021-2022

at the National Postal Museum

National History Day logo

National History Day®(NHD) is a non-profit education organization based in College Park, Maryland. NHD offers year-long academic programs that engage over half a million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. Since 1974, NHD has continuously improved history education by providing professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators. The largest NHD program is the National History Day Contest that encourages more than half a million students around the world to conduct historical research on a topic of their choice. Students enter these projects at the local and affiliate levels, with top students advancing to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences

The theme for National History Day for the 2021-2022 school year is Debate & Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences. We’ve created this page as a resource for students as they complete research on their chosen topics. National History Day encourages students to be historians and we’re here to help! On this webpage you’ll find resources, tips and tricks to support your work and research.

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- [Female Narrator] Think of debate and diplomacy as a game of chess.

Every move gets you one step closer to checkmate.

But how do you get there?

Does it require a longterm strategy?

The sacrifice of one of your pawns?

Debate and diplomacy demand the same calculations.

How hard are you willing to push for victory?

What happens if you suffer defeat?

How do you recognize allies and adversaries?

What if every option seems to lead to an unfavorable outcome, what then?

History is filled with these exchanges.

Critical moments like the Iran Contra affair, the Lincoln Douglas debates, or US neutrality during the great war stand out.

But national debates play out in local communities, and leaders at all levels use diplomacy to negotiate disputes and come to resolutions.

- [Male Narrator] What are debate and diplomacy?

Debates are formal or informal meetings where people argue on opposing sides.

Some debates have two clear sides, while others feature three or more perspectives.

Diplomacy means negotiating, compromising, and communicating with people or nations to find a nonviolent solution to a perceived problem.

Debate and diplomacy can occur independently, or be intertwined.

Can diplomacy lead to new debates?

Can debates lack diplomacy?

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- [Female Narrator] Treaties solidify relationships between nations.

The United States and Native nations signed close to 400 treaties together.

These treaties formed the backbone of their shared history.

But these treaties were not always respected.

What happens when one nation's wants and desires go beyond a standing treaty?

Can diplomatic treaties lead to significant political debates?

Consider the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Efforts to expand westward in the wake of Manifest Destiny led the US federal government to debate the status of the Cherokee, Muscogee Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations.

Though few considered the perspective of Native nations.

How did these debates undermine long-standing diplomatic relations?

What were the consequences of the Indian Removal Act?

How did it change life for Native Americans?

How did this event shape the relationship between Native nations and the United States throughout the 19th and 20th centuries?

- [Woman] Give us that much.


- [Female Narrator] Others might look to foreign policy and diplomatic efforts between nations.

As a budding nation, the United States faced challenges to its status abroad.

When the US refused to pay tributes or taxes to the Barbary States, pirates seized US ships and ransomed the crews.

US leaders debated how to handle this crisis.

Should they pay the tribute or build a navy?

Ultimately, diplomacy took over.

The United States negotiated two treaties with the Barbary States.

How did the treaties inform United States policy and perception both at home and abroad?

What role did the great seal and the US passport play in this story?

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- [Male Narrator] Throughout history, workers, labor unions, and business leaders have debated wages, safety conditions, and child labor laws.

Some of these debates took place inside the United States, while others, like the oil crisis of 1973, occurred when diplomatic relations between countries broke down.

The National Park Service highlights different sites across the country where labor debates led to strikes, workplace changes, and new laws.

In 1946, Flambeau torch carriers in New Orleans, Louisiana, went on strike, demanding higher wages.

These workers, mainly African-American men, were responsible for lighting the Mardi Gras celebrations.

When march organizers refused the pay raise, the workers went on strike, leaving the parade routes dark.

What was the outcome of the strike?

What makes a strike of success or failure?

Do strikes have consequences beyond an increase or failure to increase a working wage?

Students might look to their local communities to find similar stories.

How do local stories help us to understand the history of the United States?

Consider Chicago's Pullman strike of 1894, Pennsylvania's anthracite coal strike of 1902, the Seattle General strike of 1919, or the US postal strike of 1970.

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- [Female Narrator] Sometimes debate and diplomacy are a cultural exchange.

Students might explore the role of state dinners at the White House.

President Ulysses S.

Grant and First Lady Julia Grant welcomed King Kalakaua of the kingdom of Hawaii in 1874 for the first ever state dinner.

They discussed the trade agreements between the two nations.

How can the dinner table become a site of debate and diplomacy among nations?

In what ways have state dinners helped or harmed diplomatic interests?

- [Female Narrator] Other debates occurred around social topics and pastimes.

Newspapers in the early 20th century covered the debates over violent nature of American football.

What arguments were made for and against football?

These debates spanned the United States.

To learn more, check out the Chronicling America database.

This collection of digitized newspapers from across the nation was created through a partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

And is accessible at

How much of an effect did these debates have on sports in the United States?

What other debates can we find hidden in the pages of local newspapers?

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- [Female Narrator] Discussions and debates do not just happen between nations.

The National Endowment for the Humanities A More Perfect Union initiative, commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the nation, asked students to think about the relationship between the federal government and the people.

Students might look to the US War Department's archive that catalogs requests from veterans and their families seeking support.

Have the needs of the people changed the role of the federal government?

What roles do institutions like the War Department play in citizen's lives?

How has this relationship between the government and its people changed during times of war, times of peace?

- [Announcer] The president declared that many of those remaining were communists or criminals.

With few veterans among them.

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- [Female Narrator] What makes a debate or an act of diplomacy successful?

How did New Zealand establish itself as a regional power after World War II?

How did they shift their role as a British outpost to an independent diplomatic power?

Did they establish new connections, or make new treaties?

Were they successful, or did they fail to produce the intended results?

- [Male Narrator] History shows us not only the successes of debates and diplomatic relationships, but also the failures.

While Great Britain, France, Italy, and the United States lauded the 1919 Treaty of Versailles as a success, many others viewed it as a failure.

What role did emerging Middle Eastern leaders play in the treaties that followed World War I?

How did these decisions impact their people?

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- [Announcer] The footstep of the march in Washington was firm.

- [Female Narrator] No matter what happens, every debate, every diplomatic exchange has consequences.

It is important to think about the short-term and long-term effects of any historical event.

Did the failures of a diplomatic event lead to a strained relationship that affected nations down the line?

Did a successful debate change laws, beliefs, or ideas?


What techniques are used to persuade others to agree with a point of view?

Some debates are formal, with two opponents debating on a stage.

Many more are informal, and encompass attempts at political, social, economic, and cultural change.

Remember, think of debate and diplomacy like playing a game of chess.

Each move is designed to win the game.

Sacrifices sometimes need to be made.

Sometimes the player succeeds and other times they fail.

In the end, these themes help us understand exchanges that changed history.

Happy researching.

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Key Words and Terms

When you search our collection or explore our online exhibitions, you may come across some of these key terms! We understand that some of these terms might be new or unfamiliar to you and so we’ve provided definitions for them.

  • Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC): the committee that reviews proposed stamp designs and works with artists on stamps that the US Postal Service releases.
  • Cover: the outside wrapping, such as an envelope, of a letter or package that is sent through the mail.
  • Mail art: also sometimes called ‘postal art’ or ‘correspondence art’, visual art centered on sending works through the postal system where the mail, cover, or contents sent is the art.
  • Philatelist: a person who studies or collects stamps, covers, and/or revenue stamps.
  • Philately: the study and collection of stamps, covers, and revenue stamps.

For more key terms and definitions, check out our glossary of philatelic and postal history terms.

How to Cite Exhibitions and Objects in our Collection

Primary and Secondary Sources

Research Resources and Tips

Questions and Inquiries

For questions and inquiries related to National History Day, please email the following with a teacher, parent, or guardian on the email: