National History Day: Debate & Diplomacy in History

By Kate Melchior, Assistant Director of Education

The National History Day annual theme logo, which shows white lettering over blue lines in an abstract design with a purple background. Text reads National History Day 2022, Debate & Diplomacy in History: Success, Failures, Consequences.
National History Day 2022

We’re now halfway through the fall semester and Massachusetts students are hard at work on their National History Day® projects! National History Day (NHD) is a year-long historical research and inquiry project for students in grades 6-12, and the MHS is proud to be the affiliate coordinator of NHD in Massachusetts. Every year NHD frames students’ research within a historical theme with a broad application to world, national, or local history. This year’s theme, Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences, seems particularly relevant as students explore important historic moments during which multiple perspectives either clashed or came together for the common good.

At the MHS, we’re excited about the possibilities of this year’s historical theme. MHS’ Hannah Wilson in Library Reader Services created an incredible resource list highlighting different themes of Debate and Diplomacy within MHS collections, including debates over the ratification of the Massachusetts constitution, protest and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act, conflict over women’s suffrage, and the papers of senator and diplomat Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Students are invited to explore questions such as “What are the strengths and limits of diplomacy?” and “Whose voices are included in debate, and who might be left out?” Our partners at the Boston Athenaeum, the Gibson House, and the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center and many other organizations have also created theme pages to help NHD students explore Debate and Diplomacy in their collections. You can find these pages and many others on our National History Day Massachusetts website.

Portrait of Abigail Adams as a young woman. She is wearing a blue dress with a lace trim and wears white pearls around her neck, and has a serene expression with a small smile on her face.
Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blythe

This year’s theme also offers the chance to highlight the continued resonance of another important figure from the MHS collections, one who just celebrated her 277th birthday! Born on 22 November 1744, Abigail Adams was the second First Lady in American history. Adams played a key role as advisor, diplomat, and public figure alongside her husband John Adams throughout his political career and presidency. In 2019, MHS John Winthrop Student Fellow Ella Amouyal created an online exhibit exploring Adams’ diplomatic work in France and England from 1784-88 and its impact on Adams’ views on patriotism, economics, and education. We anticipate that the Adams Family Papers at the MHS will serve as another rich resource for our NHD students as they explore the role of Debate and Diplomacy in the early years of US History.

The 2019 Season of National History Day in Massachusetts

By Elyssa Tardif, Director of Education

The 2019 season of National History Day in Massachusetts is nearing its end, and we are so proud of the 5,900 students who participated across the state as well as their incredible teachers! This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy,” which inspired students to tackle some of the more complex historical moments and figures in history. Projects ranged in topic and include an exhibit on the Harlem Hellfighters; a website on Comfort Women and the Creation of the Korean Council; a performance on the friendship between Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; and a documentary on the Woburn Cancer Cluster.

This year, 791 students competed in the regional competitions in March, and 333 students competed at the state competition in April. There are 70 students who will compete at the national competition which will take place in College Park, Maryland, in June.

Students presenting at National History Day in Massachusetts
National History Day in Massachusetts student participants

We are very pleased to report that 64 schools participated in the NHD program this year. This is a 20% increase from last year! With generous funding from the Mass Cultural Council and Mass Humanities, we have been able to expand the program by offering introductory workshops to new schools and will continue this work next year to reach even more students and teachers.

We celebrated the National History Day program at the Massachusetts State House on 22 April, in commemoration of the beginning of public education in America that took place in 1635 with the founding of the Boston Latin School. The State House event was sponsored by Rep. Chynah Tyler, and we were joined by our partners at Mass Cultural Council as well as Sen. Jason Lewis, Rep. Alice Peisch, Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, and Rep. Peter Capano.

Photo of 22 April 2019 event at the State House
National History Day celebration at the Massachusetts State House, 22 April 2019

We welcome members of the public to learn more about the NHD program.  There is no better way than to serve as a judge at one of our competitions! Please contact us at for more information.