2010-11 Contest Theme
Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, ConsequencesWelcome to 2011 National History Day!
This year we are introducing a new theme, Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes,
Failures, Consequences. At first glance, this theme may evoke topics of presidential debates and
international affairs. However, look again, and think in terms of debates about civil liberties,
reform movements, failed or successful international and domestic diplomatic missions. What
about the debates at the center of any of the amendments to The Constitution or Supreme
Court cases? Was diplomacy practiced in any of these cases? Students can investigate historically
significant debates about sports, music, fashion, prohibition, and suffrage or the censorship of
music, art or literature. Don’t stop at American history! Juxtapose the same ideas against a world
canvas and you will find historical topics abound.
The power of this theme is that students find the impact of historic debates and diplomacy on
their lives. The caution is not to begin historical research in the present and trace the debate or
the diplomatic mission backward; begin in the past. For example, immigration is a topic that is
hotly debated today and has been continually questioned since our nation began; what should
the nation’s policy be on immigration? The answer to this question has changed over time
because of the supply and demand for goods, cheap labor and available resources. From 1820
to the present the U.S. has had five distinct eras and policies on immigration. Any of these eras
are steeped in possible research topics. If students are interested in the impact of immigration
they may want to do a web site on the “Open Door” policy for immigrants during the years
1820–1880. Or if a student is interested in the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act they may want
to create a performance about the “door ajar” era of immigration when immigration inspired a
xenophobic reaction. This had a ripple effect in the entire economic system of the late 19th
century. The debate must be studied during the particular time and place in history it began.
The temptation for students is to study the modern day debate and bring in the historical story.
Digging into a topic from its inception, examining the historical context and asking questions
regarding the historical significance transforms a current event report into historical research.
Dayce, a middle school teacher from Wisconsin defined a good theme as, “one that allows
for the widest range of topics. So many of my students are turned off by what we might call
‘traditional’ History Day topics, and they learn the most when they are able to find a topic that
is of great personal interest and relates to the theme. Given that opportunity, even some of our
most at-risk students do exceptionally well. And that is why we love National History Day. It
offers tremendous learning opportunities even to those that don’t think they want to learn.”
Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences meets Dayce’s criteria for
a good theme. After all, have you ever met a teenager who didn’t like a good debate or wasn’t
concerned with their civil liberties?!
Happy Researching and thanks Dayce!