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 four Washington State Archives History Awards. The awards are for History Day projects in both the junior and senior divisions that demonstrate exceptional use of archival research.



The 2024 theme is Turning Points in History.

This expansive theme includes many topics that are supported by research collections in local archives, libraries and museums. Students should choose topics that fit their interests, talents and abilities. The Washington State Archives and Washington State Library are available to help students identify primary and secondary sources for their research projects. 

The topics linked below are a fraction of the possible subjects relevant to this year’s theme and Washington history. Students can get help by clicking on the “Ask an Archivist” and “Ask a Librarian” buttons on the topic pages.



African Americans come to the Pacific Northwest

African Americans have had a presence in the history of the Pacific Northwest since the Lewis and Clark Expedition and began settling in Washington State in the 1850s. The first major turning point in African American migration to the Northwest involved George W. Bush. Bush was one of the leaders of the first organized party of settlers migrating to Puget Sound.



The development of air travel has had a tremendous impact on transportation systems and economic conditions throughout the world.




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.



Century 21 Exposition

In 1958, the United States was shocked when the Soviet Union became the first country to launch a spaceship into orbit around the earth. In the months and years that followed, the “Space Race” became the impetus for the United Sates to increase its capacity to do scientific research and development. The federal government in particular became concerned about increasing the number of students who chose science as field of study and a profession. The organizers of the Seattle Worlds Fair chose to focus its theme on the twenty-first century and the role that science and technology would play in everyday life.



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.



Dams change agriculture and industry in the Pacific Northwest

Between the 1930s and the 1960s the construction of a series of dams changed the character of the rivers, agriculture, industry, ecology and economy of the Pacific Northwest. The centerpiece of this development, the Grand Coulee Dam, is one of the great engineering achievements of the twentieth century. The development of the Grand Coulee Dam included a debate lasting many years over the best site and choice of technology for delivering irrigation to the arid lands of the Columbia Basin.



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.



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.



Hanford Project brings the Northwest into the Atomic Age

During the early 1940s the entire town of Hanford and the surrounding countryside was condemned and purchased by the federal government and placed off limits to the general public. Thousands of workers were brought into the area to work on a secret project which most of them knew almost nothing about. The neighboring farming communities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco became boom towns.




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.



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.




Native American Boarding Schools

Native American boarding schools forcibly removed children from their families and suppressed Native language, cultures and beliefs. These schools, which operated from the late 1880s to the 1960s, had a primary objective to "civilize" or assimilate Native American children.



Oregon Trail: Superhighway to the Pacific Northwest

Starting in the 1830s the Oregon Trail served as the major route for settlers bound for the Pacific Northwest.





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.



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.