National History Day contest celebrates 50th anniversary

National History Day is commemorating 50 years of engaging young historians in cultivating critical thinking, honing research skills and nurturing a deeper understanding of the country’s past. 

To celebrate, the Orange County Department of Education is assisting National History Day — or NHD — in unveiling the 2023-2024 theme of “Turning Points in History.”

The nonprofit educational organization encourages students to center their attention on pivotal moments in history where substantial changes took place. This prompt calls on participants to analyze the impact of their chosen topic on individuals, communities, nations or the global landscape.

Each year, more than half a million students in grades six through 12 take part in National History Day contests at the local, state and national levels. Participants, working as individuals or teams, conduct extensive research on a historical topic over the course of several months before submitting projects connected to a specific team. 

Last year, NHD’s Orange County chapter — or NHD-OC — welcomed entries from individual students and teams from 28 schools in eight districts along with four private schools.

NHD-OC kickoff event
Julie Hull led a panel of experienced and new mentors from the program at a NHD-OC event in Costa Mesa. (Courtesy of Dr. Jeff Kim, an Irvine Unified School District Board of Education trustee)

“We are not only learning about history, but becoming historians ourselves,” said Megan L., a student. “Learning through competition is a rewarding experience.” 

OCDE’s NHD-OC Contest Coordinators Julie Hull and Dr. Virginia Reischl will continue to support the teams throughout the process for this year’s contest, and they’re hoping more students will participate this year. The pair hosted a showcase on Aug. 31 to kick off the theme. They also highlighted student projects and held a Q&A session with experienced and newer coaches. 

“From coaching to judging in my former district and now as the co-coordinator here at OCDE, my journey with National History Day in Orange County has been a testament to the unyielding power of the past and shaping our future,” said Dr. Reischl.

Reflecting on the academic contest’s 50th anniversary, Hull says it’s an opportunity for new students and coaches to become part of the program’s legacy.

“Even after 13 years coordinating NHD-OC, my excitement for National History Day remains a steadfast constant,” said Hull. 

Students who are interested in participating in the contest this year are encouraged to find out if their school has an NHD program. Registration for the new season opens Jan. 16. 

For more information about National History Day-Orange County, contact OCDE Co-Coordinators Julie Hull and Dr. Virginia Reischl at