University of Wisconsin–Madison

National History Day

National History Day is a project-based history contest for students in middle and high school. Every state has a program, and you can find out more about how to join Wisconsin’s National History Day here.

For students and teachers who are already part of National History Day, Wisconsin 101 has many resources you can use.  Whether you are working on an exhibit, a paper, a presentation, or a website, we are happy to help!

“Triumph and Tragedy”– Objects and the National History Day Theme

An object history” tells stories about the past by starting with a object. Objects document past events and remind us of the thoughts, values, and experiences of people long gone. They also help us explore the links between distant events and processes. For instance, the history of a soda bottle sold in Whitefish Bay in the early 1900s, the creation of Milwaukee’s resort towns, and patterns of urban growth in the state.

Draft DrumFor National History Day, you can write your own object histories, or you can explore our website to find objects that relate to your project.  Some objects on Wisconsin 101 connect directly with this year’s theme of “Triumph and Tragedy.” For instance, on the left is a draft drum. Drums like this were used to choose soldiers for the army during the Civil War. The draft made many Americans fearful, and in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, it even inspired violence.




Cherryland Tee But conflicts take many forms, and so do the objects linked to their histories.  For example, this Cherryland T-shirt, offers one view into a history of migrant labor in Wisconsin.  It can help us better understand national strikes, efforts to create unions for farm workers, and protests to improve migrant worker housing in Wisconsin.

Take some time and explore the objects and stories on our site. You might be surprised by what kinds of connections you can build!



Resources for Students
  • Map: Use this to find stories about objects from your part of the state. Map.
  • Finding objects: Begin by visiting your local museum or historical society. You can find a list of them here. If you have already begun a NHD project, then you can see what objects they have that might link to your project. When you talk to the curator be very clear about what you are researching. That way they can help guide you to the most useful objects. You can also visit places like the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Milwaukee Jewish Museum, the Neville Public Museum, or the Wisconsin Historical Society. And don’t forget to look for photos. Some are online while others you’ll need to visit in person.
  • Useful objects: The best object for your project will include information about where it was made, when, how, who owned it, or why that person gave it to the archive. Remember, just because someone famous owned or created the object, doesn’t mean it will be useful for your project.
Resources for Teachers
  • Tips for visiting an archive: Try contacting your local historical society  or museum to see if they can provide a short tour of their collections and some time for students to see objects in the collection. Be clear with the archivist about what the project is so that they can help choose objects that are most useful for your students.  Being specific about the students’ projects will help the archivist guide students through the collection.  For instance, “The National History Day theme is ‘Conflict and Compromise’ this year. One of my students is interested in this theme as it connects to the history of labor disputes in the late nineteenth century.  Do you have any objects that might help her develop a local context for this project?”
  • Lesson plans: Whether for National History Day or a classroom assignment, Wi101 can help you develop lesson plans for your classroom. We’re here to help.

Featured Image: National History Day logo from wikimedia commons.