National History Day 2023-2024

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.

National History Day 2023-2024 Turning Points in History

The theme for National History Day for the 2023-2024 school year is Turning Points in History. 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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In 2024, for the 50th anniversary of National History Day, students will consider the theme of Turning Points in History for their National History Day projects.

But first they must ask themselves, what is a turning point?

A turning point is an idea, event, or action that caused change, either directly or indirectly.

Sometimes historical significance can be clear in the moment. Other times we understand the importance of that moment much later in history.

A turning point can be an action by only one person, or a movement of millions. A turning point can have an impact that can be felt worldwide or in one community.

Turning points can happen four thousand years ago, or 50 years ago. A turning point can lead to social, political, economic and cultural change. While turning points can be positive or negative, they are often both.

In short, the possibilities for a NHD project are practically limitless. There is a topic for every student.

Whatever the turning point, students must demonstrate its significance in history.

As you consider a topic, ask yourself the following questions:

What factors led up to the turning point? How and why?

How did it create change? What happened before and after?

What were the immediate and long-term consequences?

What impact did the turning point have on the people who experienced it?

How did they, in turn, affect it?

Why was this turning point significant in history?

Now let's consider a few examples.

Events as turning points.

When we hear this term, we often think of wars, social movements, revolutions and natural disasters.

Major events like World War I, the Chinese Revolution.

Is it possible to fully understand all the perspectives, historical context, historical significance of such broad topics in 10 minutes, 2500 words, a single website, or one exhibit board? Probably not.

But what about one event within a larger movement?

A student interested in World War I might explore a specific military campaign, a technological innovation, or the role humanitarian organizations played in combating the hunger crisis after the war ended.

They might explore how the war ensured the already weakened Ottoman Empire's demise or how European powers influenced the boundaries of the modern Middle East.

Sometimes seemingly simple events can have major consequences for people and their nations.

Students interested in more recent history, might explore why the people of Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.

What were the consequences of the voter's decision? What led up to the vote? In what way can a vote on a single issue serve as a turning point and lead to immediate and long-term change?

Consider the long-term consequences of patterns in history such as colonialism.

How did the storming of the Sikh Golden Temple in 1984 influence Anglo-Indian relations?

How did it build on the century of British colonialism that India had previously endured?

Similarly, how did the annexations of Hawaii and Alaska help the United States become a global power?

How did their subsequent statehoods impact the land rights of indigenous communities?

Researching local history provides opportunities to learn about, and share the histories of individuals and groups whose stories have not yet been told and to engage in deeper analysis.

Students interested in legal and social history might consider New York's Tenement House Act of 1867, the first housing reform law in the United States.

This law set minimum requirements for room size and ventilation. It also required that tenants have access to bathroom facilities and fire escapes.

While it was a state law, it influenced other cities developing similar codes.

How was the establishment of an aviation repair depot in Speedway, Indiana during World War I an economic and social turning point within Speedway and the surrounding community?

How has aviation, a turning point in the progress of the war? 

How did production methods introduced during the war change manufacturing practices when the war ended?

Consider how a large-scale event could be a turning point at the local level.

How is the Somali Civil War in the 1990s and the resulting wave of immigration a turning point in a city as seemingly remote from Somalia as Minneapolis, Minnesota?

Natural disasters have turned the tide of history time and again.

A typhoon in 1281 destroyed a Mongol Fleet as it prepared to invade Japan while winds blew the Spanish Armada off course in 1588.

In 1692 an earthquake caused the Jamaican city of Port Royal to slide into the sea.

In the 1930s Dust Bowl, severe drought and winds swept the North American prairies.

What were the results of these natural disasters?

Why were they historically significant?

What were the short and long-term consequences?

Can incredibly horrific events nevertheless have positive consequences?

The Black Death killed nearly half of Europe's population from 1347 to 1351.

How did widespread labor shortages affect Europe's feudal system?

How have other epidemics led to advancements in medicine, science, social structures, or sanitation practices?

Actions as turning points.

Turning points can also cross thematic boundaries.

Frida Kahlo's paintings sparked international interest in Mexican art, and in turn, in Mexico and its culture.

What impact did it have on women?

How are Chinese-American LGBTQ activist James Toy's efforts to forward LGBTQ rights in Ann Arbor Michigan a turning point in both the city's attitudes and policies and in how marginalized groups collaborate to spark reforms?

Sometimes a turning point's impacts are evident in unexpected places.

At the 1976 Olympics when Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10 in women's gymnastics, she brought widespread publicity to the sport and set a new standard for scoring.

What were the cultural and political effects both within and outside of Romania?

The 1954 Brown versus Board of Education case was a landmark event within the Civil Rights Movement, but could it be considered a turning point for other marginalized groups? Why or why not?

What impact did it have on later legislation?

Protests and other forms of collective action have been responsible for numerous changes, great and small, throughout history.

In what way did the 1968 protest against the Illinois Bell company influence Chicago's Mexican and Puerto Rican communities? How and why?

How were the indigenous occupations of Alcatraz in the 1960s, a turning point in Native American activism?

How did the Elaine Massacre, part of the Red Summer in September 1919, spur civil rights activism in the 1920s?

What about speeches?

How was Frederick Douglass's speech at the 1876 Republican National Convention a turning point?

What about Charles de Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June?

Did Martin Luther King's 1967 Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence have an impact beyond the Civil Rights Movement?

Sometimes turning points reverse themselves.

The 1776 New Jersey Constitution granted women and African Americans the right to vote.

However, in 1807 it revoked that right.

Despite this turnabout, how did this initial inclusion set a precedent for suffrage movements a century later?

Ideas as turning points.

Ideas can also be turning points in history, but no idea emerges out of thin air.

How does one idea build on others?

How do societies and individuals shift existing ideas to fit current needs?

Why do some ideas become turning points, while others fade?

To what extent does society shape ideas?

And to what extent do ideas shape society?

What societal factors allow new ideas to take hold?

In the 1950s Kwame Nkrumah built on existing ideas to create a vision for African independence that spread throughout the continent.

In 1957, Ghana became the first Sub-Saharan African nation to break free from colonial rule.

How was Nkrumah's Pan-Africanism an extension of ideas pioneered by W.E.B Du Bois and others in the early 20th century?

What was revolutionary about Nkrumah's ideas?

How did these ideas impact other African independence movements?

How were innovations, such as the plow, reaper, or fertilizer, turning points in farming?

While they allow us to feed Earth's rising population, how do they impact indigenous communities and their traditional practices?

For those interested in ancient history, consider the work of Greco-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy. His work, Geography, earned him the title of Father of Geography.

Ancient Libyan author Publius Terentius Afer challenged imperial Roman policy by using his characters to comedically critique the Roman Empire's treatment of foreigners.

How do we use these ancient thinkers' ideas and practices today?

Scientific theories and innovations have pushed society forward, prevented great loss, and caused nearly equal devastation.

Chemist Ruth Rogan Benerito is credited with saving the cotton industry after World War II.

Admiral Grace Hopper developed computer languages written in English rather than mathematical notation.

How did these turning points change the way we dress, learn, and think?

Turning points exist in every era and place in history. Their effects are seen in every facet of our world, physical, social, economic, and political.

Consider multiple perspectives.

Remember that even the most seemingly positive turning points can have less obvious negative repercussions.

Bring to light stories yet untold.

We can't wait to see what turning points your research reveals in 2024.

Research Resources and Tips

How to Cite Exhibitions and Objects in our Collection

Primary and Secondary Sources

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.

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: