By Carmen Clark

Back in the day, there was Science Fair.  High school and maybe middle school students were encouraged to ask a question, develop an experiment, make an exhibit about their project and compete locally and nationally.

Meanwhile, back in that same day,  history became the grand story of American lore, from Columbus sailing the ocean blue through Indian hospitality to deserving Pilgrims.  Kids nhd-2015-winnerrecited the Gettysburg Address and skimmed over the 20th Century’s valiant Yankee troops and iconic presidents.

High school history courses have gotten better and today there is also National History Day, a vital counterpart to science fair.

Thanks to History Professor David Van Tassell of Case Western Reserve, National History Day came into being in 1974 with 129 Cleveland-area students.  It has mushroomed ever since, to involve more than a half-million 6th-12th graders throughout the USA. They develop individual or group history projects in one of five categories-Documentary video, Exhibit, Paper, Performance or Website. Students in early spring and winning projects move from their schools to regional, state and National Contest in June.  (Photo above right shows one of the many projects in a past contest celebrating Cesar Chavez.)

National History Day aims to give students opportunities to learn about history and develop research, thinking and communication skills, enhancing teaching of history in the process.  Each year, the contest features a particular theme.  This year’s is “Taking a Stand in History.”  Read here how to adapt this theme to a potential NHD project.

The Wisconsin Labor History Society and its friends worked hard for legislative approval of labor history in the schools as part of core curriculum standards.  Now we need it implemented against the pushback of school administrators who gleefully said goodbye to teachers unions and activists likely to know the most and care the most about labor history.

Through the enthusiasm of several board members, including Jim Reiland and Laurie Wermter, WLHS began to offer cash prizes for superior NHD projects involving labor history.  WLHS members have gotten involved in judging winning projects for our cash projects.  Wisconsin History Day has continued to grow and WLHS now awards up to $1,000 in cash prizes each year at regional and state levels to deserving projects in junior and senior competitions.

Because labor history is generally not included in textbooks and standard curriculum, and because teachers are not always comfortable teaching labor history through lack of knowledge or lack of support, it is vital that the labor movement, labor historians, and the WLHS expand our involvement in NHD and support for the project.  We need resources for students in starting quality projects in labor history, since many students have little idea of what labor history is even about, let alone the milestones in labor struggles, the role of unions in American history and social change, or lessons to learn from labor history or the history of working people for today’s challenges.

We need your support and participation to be a resource in getting students started with their projects and helping them identify what and how to develop their research, judging at regional and state levels, and helping raise matching prize money from local unions, labor councils, and other friends of labor, and in coordinating our efforts and our assistance to the excellent state NHD administrators in Madison.  We need teachers to reach out to teachers statewide, we need creative new ways to educate and support teachers in teaching labor history or hosting guest speakers in their classrooms, and familiarizing them with the many resources available to them involving Wisconsin Labor History.

WLHS is expanding to younger generations, partly from our enthusiastic participation in National History Day.  We have begun a fund to ally costs of attending national competition for needy and deserving students, funded in great part by donations in Jim Reiland’s memory.  There is so much more that can be done, most requiring your participation rather than your money.  more information and to get involved with WLHS’s National History Day activities.  Volunteering to be a general judge for NHD is not the same as volunteering to be a judge for our special prizes.  Please consider helping us in one of the following ways:

  • Become a volunteer judge at one of the ten regional conferences in the state.
  • Encourage middle and high schools students you know to submit entries and assist in providing them with resources.
  • Make a donation to our Labor History in the Schools Fund that helps to cover the cost of our cash prizes.

For more information, click here.

See brochure on National History Day.

Please contact us to show your interest in this project at