Center for the Teaching of History

2018 National History Day: Conflict and Compromise in History

Start by looking through the official National History Day 2018 Conflicts and Compromise Theme Book.

Then begin exploring the many historical resources available at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  You can begin searching for inspiration anywhere in our collections: by exploring our library catalogues, our online resources, our collection guides, or by visiting us in person.

Topics and Themes

The following are a sample of the many potential topics for a 2018 Conflict and Compromise National History Day project based on MHS Collections.  Please note that these ideas are just to get you started, and many of these subjects will have to be narrowed down to produce a high quality project.

Early New England

  • Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer, and the Antinomian Controversy
  • Puritans and Anglicans: Religious Conflict and Social Compromise in Early Boston
  • Broken Compromises and Breached Boundaries: The Road to King Philip's War
  • Mary Rowlandson: Conflict and Compromise in Captive Narratives
  • John Elliot, Indian "Praying Towns," and the Impact of Missionaries in Early New England
  • Samuel Sewall and the Salem Witchcraft Trials: Conflict between Law, Morals, and Religion

The Revolutionary War

  • Loyalists in Boston: Conflict of Identity and Community in a Changing Nation
  • Taxation and Representation: Failed Compromise and the Road to Revolution
  • Deborah Sampson: Conflict and Compromise in Gender and the Revolution
  • The Bucks of America: African American Patriots in the Revolutionary War
  • "All men are created equal": Phillis Wheatley, Slave Petitions, and the Struggle for Freedom in Revolution-Era Boston

The Early Republic

  • John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: Conflict and Compromise in the Birth of Party Politics
  • George Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion
  • Writing and Rewriting the US Constitution
  • Elizabeth Freeman, Quock Walker, and the Legal End of Slavery in Massachusetts

The 19th Century

  • Conflict and Compromise in Boston Neighborhoods: Irish Immigration
  • Boston China Trade and the Opium Wars
  • Anthony Burns and the Conflict over the Fugitive Slave Act
  • Massachusetts in the Civil War
  • The 54th Regiment: The First African American Unit in the Civil War

The 20th Century

  • Sacco and Venzetti: Immigrant Ideals and Identity on Trial during the Red Scare
  • "I Want You!": WWI Propaganda Posters and Shaping American Identity through Conflict
  • Annie Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett: "Boston Marriages"and LGBTQ History
  • Suffrage and Anti-Suffrage: Conflict and Compromise in Female Identity and the Women's Vote

Highlighted MHS Collections

Here are just a few of the numerous collection guides at MHS with manuscripts and artifacts related to National History Day themes:

  • American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts Records 1920-2005: Documents the administrative, legal, legislative, and educational activities of ACLUM, the ACLU , and its other affiliates from ACLUM's founding as the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts in 1920 to 2005. The records include legal, legislative, and subject files, ACLUM administrative records, correspondence, printed material, and other records related to the organization's attempts to protect civil rights in Massachusetts and the United States.
  • Collections Relevant to African American History at the Massachusetts Historical Society: Within the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) reside manuscripts, books, printed materials, photographs, and artifacts by and about African Americans. This overview is intended to guide historians, researchers, genealogists, teachers, and others to the type and depth of information available for the study of African American lives, institutions, and history at the Society.
  • Civil War Correspondence, Diaries, and Journals at the Massachusetts Historical Society: This microfilm edition consists of Civil War correspondence, diaries, and journals from several collections of personal or family papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
  • Presidential Letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society--An Overview : This subject guide is an overview of the Massachusetts Historical Society's U.S. presidents holdings of all known letters written by presidents found in the Society's manuscript and autograph collections.
  • Henry Cabot Lodge Papers: This collection consists of the personal, official, and family papers of historian and United States Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924) spanning the years 1775-1966. Subjects covered include Republican Party politics 1870-1924, and American foreign policy, 1890-1924 incl. the Panama Canal, the Spanish-American War, and World War I.
  • Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women Records, 1894-1920: This Massachusetts Association  was founded in May 1895, and its primary function was to obtain signatures for "remonstrances" against "the imposition of any further political duties upon women." These "remonstrances" were circulated to offset the petitions of the suffragists.

NHD Collection Highlights

Here are examples of interesting documents and artifacts which could inspire your NHD project:

A watercolor depicting a row of buildings on a flat landscape.  There are people walking around, several kites flying in the sky, and a mountain rising up in the distance."Mess Hall, Bathroom, Barracks. Japanese Relocation Center. Heart Mt. Wyoming." by Estelle IshigoThis watercolor painting by Estelle Ishigo depicts the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, one of ten internment camps established for Japanese Americans during World War II. Ishigo was recruited as a “Documentary Reporter” for the War Relocation Authority and recorded the internment experience in illustrations, line drawings, oil, and watercolors.



Image of a printed version of the US Constitution with handwritten notes


U.S. Constitution (first printing) with annotations by Elbridge Gerry


This copy of the first printed draft of the U.S. Constitution shows the evolution of the text as it was amended during the debates at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, who refused to sign because it lacked a Bill of Rights, annotated the draft with his handwritten notes.



Ink, watercolor scene on wove paper depicting a Cheyenne Medicine Pow-wow"Cheyenne Medicine Pow-Wow" by Bear's Heart, from book of sketches made at Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida, 1877

This colorful scene was drawn by Bear's Heart, a young Cheyenne warrior, during his captivity at Fort Marion in Florida after the Red River War of 1874-1875. While held by the U.S. military, Bear's Heart and other Native American prisoners depicted their lives in ledger art like this.


Title page and index of Cotton Mather's Book,

The Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather, 1693


Clergyman, author, and scholar Cotton Mather became known as the chief apologist for the Salem witchcraft trials with his publication of The Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693. The book was controversial because it seemed to contradict Mather's earlier arguments for moderation and leniency.



Porcelain mugs depicting the heads of Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.  On the back of each head is a handle shaped like and elephant trunk.GOP campaign mugs of Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. by Charlotte Shaull Blevins, 1960


This unique set of porcelain mugs depicting the heads of Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Republican candidates for president and vice president in the election of 1960, once belonged to U.S. Representative Richard B. Wigglesworth. The handles are in the shape of elephants' trunks.



Red Cross workers offering beverages to soldiers outside a canteenPhotographs from the WWI Memoir of Margaret Hall, 1918-1919

As a member of the American Red Cross in France during World War I, Massachusetts-born Margaret Hall worked at a canteen at a railroad junction in the town of Châlons. On her return home she compiled a typescript narrative from the letters and diary passages that she wrote while overseas. Her words offer a first-hand account of life on the View of a French helmet atop a cross marking a gravesiteWestern Front in the last months of the war. She also copiously illustrated the text with her own photographs, which depict soldiers, canteens, and the extensive destruction and ruin following the war.



Portrait of Frederick Douglass Frederick DouglassAfter escaping from slavery in 1838, twenty-year-old Frederick Bailey took the name Douglass and became an active abolitionist and antislavery lecturer. The publication of his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845 and a subsequent tour of Europe brought him international celebrity. In 1847 Douglass moved to Rochester, New York, where he published the abolitionist journal, the North Star. During the Civil War, he served as a recruiting agent for Massachusetts when it became the first state to enlist African-American soldiers in the North. After the Civil War, Douglass served in high ranking federal positions under five presidents and continued to write, lecture, and advocate in many other ways for the rights of African Americans.


                                Massachusetts Civil War Letters from Antietam

Account of Rupert Sadler (copy), 24 September 1862Letter from Wilder Dwight to Elizabeth A. Dwight, 17 September 1862.Letter from Wilder Dwight
to Elizabeth A. Dwight,
17 September 1862
Account of Rupert Sadler
(copy), 24 September 1862
On 17 September 1862, along a rambling creek in western Maryland, Americans fought the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of combat in United States history: there were almost 23,000 casualties before nightfall when mutual exhaustion ended the fighting. Of the long list of killed and wounded, it was the death of Col. Wilder Dwight, the 29 year-old commander of the 2nd Mass. Infantry who seemed bound for greater things, that most shocked Massachusetts.


Wilder Dwight wrote the letter on the left to his mother Elizabeth A. Dwight while he lay mortally wounded on the Antietam battlefield.


In the letter on the right, Rupert Sadler recounts coming to the aid of his injured commander, Wilder Dwight, during the Battle of Antietam.