NATIONAL HISTORY DAY, INC., is a competition, originated at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIV, that encourages historical research and learning among secondary school students. History Day, which occurs annually in June, is the culmination of a series of contests at progressive levels. Throughout the school year students research and prepare papers, projects, dramatic performances, and media presentations based on a designated historical theme. Participants in each local district assemble on a college or university campus, where their efforts are judged by professional historians. Winners in various categories and age divisions then progress to a state contest; the state winners are invited to compete in a national event in the Washington, DC area.

The program was conceived and initiated in Cleveland in 1974 by history professor DAVID VAN TASSEL of CWRU in response to numerous reports focusing on the decline in scholarship and inadequate teaching in American school systems. At that time, History Day was only a pilot project involving 129 secondary school students in the Greater Cleveland area. By 1976 it had spread throughout the state. Three more states were added by 1979, when the program incorporated into a nonprofit organization under the name National History Day, Inc. The following year, fifteen additional states were added, and a national contest was held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In 1981 the national contest was moved to the Univ. of Maryland-College Park.

A letter from David Van Tassel to John Vacha
Letter from David Van Tassel to John Vacha, thanking Vacha for his assistance with the second National History Day

The National Headquarters at CWRU followed suit in 1992 upon the resignation of Dr. Lois Scharf, executive director, 1979-92; her successor was Dr. Gordon McKinney, 1992-95. Until 1994 the Ohio state finals were held at CWRU, but in 1995 the state program was transferred to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus. In 1995 all 50 states and the District of Columbia held History Day contests with approximately 500,000 students and 40,000 teachers. Hundreds of professional historians acting as judges and coordinators participated in the program. In 1995 Dr. Cathy Gorn was named executive director of National History Day, Inc. As of 2022, Dr. Gorn continues to occupy that position. 

Article Categories