National History Day topic guide

Washington History Day is part of National History Day, a contest that challenges middle- and high-school students to develop their historical research skills. In Washington, the National History Day program is administered by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, in partnership with Washington State ArchivesWashington State Library, Washington State Historical Society, and other supporting organizations.


Special awards, and keeping it close to home

We encourage students to select a topic related to Washington state so we can help them with in-depth research. As part of Washington History Day, Archives gives out Washington State Archives History Awards — one each in the junior and senior divisions. The awards are for History Day projects that demonstrate exceptional use of archival research.



This topic guide is to help students select a strong subject related to this year's theme and kick-start their research.


The 2021-2022 theme is "Debate & Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences."


Boldt decision and Indian fishing rights

In the 1850s Gov. Isaac Stevens and native tribes signed a series of treaties that established a legal framework for European-American settlement of lands previously occupied by the tribes. One of the concessions the tribes received was the right to continue fishing in their accustomed places using their customary practices.



Campus protests and the counterculture

In the 1960s and 1970s, college students and student organizations protested against the Vietnam War, racial and sexual discrimination, and traditional concepts of American culture and morality.




Civil Rights Movement

African American civil rights organizations have had a presence in Washington state since the early 20th century. The experiences of individuals and organizations may be effectively used to interpret this topic.




Columbia Basin Commission

The rivers in Washington’s Columbia Basin have been seen as potential sources for irrigating arid farmland and generating electric energy since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1919 the Washington state Legislature created the Columbia Basin Survey Commission and appropriated $100,000 for it to develop the region’s irrigation and hydroelectric potential.



Conservation Movement

The American conservation movement began at the turn of the 20th century, with the focus on protecting and replenishing natural resources, such as timber, fish, water, and farmland.



Filipino Cannery Workers’ and Farm Laborers’ Union

People began coming from the Philippine Islands to the Puget Sound area at the turn of the 20th century. Many found work in fish canneries and on farms. In 1933 these workers took a stand to improve their pay and working conditions by forming the Cannery Workers’ and Farm Laborers’ Union Local 18257.



Fluoridation: Water quality, health, and free choice

From the 1940s to the 1970s, a variety of individuals, groups, and health care professionals supported and opposed fluoridation of water systems throughout the United States. Free choice, religious, and health reasons all entered into discussions for and against fluoridation of public water systems.



Gay and lesbian civil rights

Over the past 35 years, some of the most contentious civil rights debates have focused on homosexual people. Issues such as job rights, marriage, and civil unions remain unresolved.



Harbor Island controversy

The Port of Seattle was formed as the first public port district in Washington state by a vote of the citizens of King County in the 1911 General Election. The new Port Commission took office January 1912. Almost immediately, controversy erupted.




Hunger marches in Olympia

"Hunger marches" took place in Olympia, Washington, on Jan. 17 and March 2, 1933. Protesters demanded that the state government provide food, shelter, relief, and programs to create jobs for the unemployed throughout the state.



Indian treaties

Isaac Stevens' top priority as the first governor of Washington Territory was to establish treaties that would set up a legal framework for European American settlement of lands traditionally occupied by Indian tribes. In a whirlwind of activity, Gov. Stevens toured the territory and established a uniform treaty with every group of native people he could identify.



Japanese internment

In 1942, Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent living on the West Coast were assembled, registered, and moved to inland internment camps.



Pig War: A pig and an international boundary dispute

In 1846, the United States and Great Britain signed the Oregon Treaty, establishing the northwest boundary between the United States and the British colony of Canada. The San Juan Islands in the Haro Strait, however, was not described accurately in the treaty and became a point of contention between the two nations, which had already settled and claimed the area.



Prohibition: America tries to go dry

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect Jan. 16, 1920. It banned the sale, transportation, import, and export of all intoxicating liquor throughout the United States and all territories under the jurisdiction of the federal government. In Washington state, however, the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of liquor began Jan. 1, 1916. Prohibition ended nationally in 1933.



Public health information campaigns​

Throughout their history, state and local health departments, including the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, have responded to public health issues with public service and information campaigns. These campaigns communicate the dangers posed by public-health threats – such as tuberculosis, cigarette smoking, and HIV/AIDS – and persuade the public to take action to protect their health and well-being.



Puyallup Indian Tribe land claim settlement​

On Dec. 26, 1854, over 60 leaders from Indian tribes in western Washington signed the Medicine Creek Treaty, which established boundaries for a number of reservations, including one for the Puyallup Tribe. Over the next century the tribe would lose ownership over much of the land within the reservation.



Women's suffrage

In 1910 Washington became the fifth state in the nation in which women gained the right to vote and hold public office. For a brief period in the 19th century, in fact, women had the right to vote in Washington Territory.



World Trade Organization breaks down in Seattle​

In November and December 1999, demonstrators took to the streets to protest the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Seattle. The violence of the confrontation between the Seattle Police Department and the demonstrators surprised many.