National History Day logo
The National History Day Contest encourages middle and high school students to conduct historical research on a topic of their choice. Students enter these projects at the local level and top students advance to the national contest. For more information, visit

National History Day Research at the Rosenbach

If you are participating student, including information from primary sources in your National History Day project will impress your teachers and contest judges and add another layer of research and authenticity to your project. But, working with primary sources can be a challenge because it’s very different from doing research online. The Rosenbach is here to help! We can suggest project topics, guide you towards materials that support that topic, help you learn how to use primary resources and even assist you with finding people to interview!

How do I do research with The Rosenbach?

Student Researcher To do your research with The Rosenbach, you will first need to choose your topic. Click here for a list of possible National History Day topics.Then, to use the sources at The Rosenbach, you make a research appointment, which you can do by filling out this form Once you submit the form, it will get sent to the Rosenbach’s librarian and she will get in touch with you.

Need help filling out the research appointment form? Click here.

The Reading Room, which is the place you will do the research at the museum, is open at these times:

  • Wednesdays: 10:30 a.m. — 6:00 p.m.
  • Thursdays: 10:30 a.m. — 6:00 p.m.
  • Fridays: 10:30 a.m. — 4:30 p.m.

You cannot take books or other other library materials home with you. So, try to spend at least a couple hours at the library so that you have enough time. And if you run out of time? You can always make another appointment!

Have you made your appointment to do NHD research at the Rosenbach? Click here to prepare for your visit!

Research Topics

Below are suggested NHD Research Topics to connect to the 2018 Theme: Triumph and Tragedy.

Tragic and Triumphant Historic Events

Western Expansion – The Oregon Trail – Though many people did die going West on The Oregon Trail, many survived and made it to Oregon and beyond, starting new lives in a new area

  • Collection Links: Topographical map of the Oregon Trail, field notes of John C. Fremont,

The Civil War – War is always a realm of both triumph and tragedy, and this is true for the Civil War. With characters like Belle Boyd, and the Lincoln Assassination, there are varying levels of both triumph and tragedy in the collection

  • Collection Links: Eyewitness account of Lincoln’s Assassination, telegraphs of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, Telegraphic history of the Civil War

Native American Captivity – Throughout American History, there have been many conflicts with Native Americans. Captivity Narratives are the stories by those who have been captured, and what happened to them during that time

  • Collection Links: “True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson” and other captivity narratives.

Crime and Punishment – Crime can be seen through multiple lenses: A triumph for those committing the act, tragedies for the victims. Tragedy for those captured, and triumph for those who earn justice

  • Collection Links: “An Account of the Robberies Committed by John Morrison and his accomplices…” and other accounts of crime and punishment in Philadelphia

The Chicago World’s Fair – Before and during the event, there were many different triumphs and tragedies with the building of the extravaganza. Also linked with the World’s Fair are the infamous murders of serial killer H.H. Holmes in his murder castle

  • Collection Links: Diary of a visitor to the World’s Fair, with detailed descriptions of attractions and things he did there


Political Leaders who Experienced Triumph and Tragedy

Isabella I of Castile – was Queen of Castile (a part of modern day Spain) from 1474 to 1504, succession issues, multiple marriage offers & alliance issues, technical elopement, war with Portugal, Columbus, Reconquista, religious battles

John C. Fremont – Mexican-American War; mutiny, sentence & reinstatement; California Gold Rush; Civil War, emancipation, insubordination; Loss of wealth from Pacific Railroad Investment & Panic of 1872; Westward Expansion Trails

  • Collection Links: Topographical map of the Oregon Trail, field notes.

Abraham Lincoln – served as the16th President of the United States until he was assassinated in 1865. Led the US through the Civil War

  • Collection Links: database of letters


Writers who Experienced Triumph and Tragedy

Robert Burns – Scottish poet, grew up in poverty and hardship, several love affairs, drifting from job to job and place to place, writing poetry, illnesses, unpopular political views, early death

Emily Dickinson – American poet, sent to school as a girl, very reclusive, very little published while alive, family drama

  • Collection Links: Letters from Emily to a friend

Miguel De Cervantes – Spanish writer, wrote Don Quixote, which was published in 1612. Don Quixote is a novel Don Quixote about a man who, inspired by books he’s read, decides to become a knight and travel through Spain fighting evil enlisted in the Spanish Navy, captured and made a slave in the Ottoman Empire, worked as purchasing agent for Spanish Navy, imprisoned

Mary Shelley – wrote Frankenstein which was published in 1818 when she was only 21 years old. Mother was a feminist philosopher who died while still a baby, difficult relationship with stepmother, affair & child out of wedlock with Percy Bysshe Shelley, death of first three children, debt, marriage after Percy’s first wife committed suicide, writing of Frankenstein, husband drowned, various illnesses

  • Collection links: Letters from her husband that reference her, editions of her books

Phillis Wheatley – first African American poet to be published in the United States, sold into slavery when she was young, taught to read and write by her owners, freed from slavery, married, two children died young, husband imprisoned, died while in poverty

  • Collection Links: Editions of her poetry


Additional People Related to Tragic Historic Events

Isabella “Belle” Boyd – Confederate spy during the Civil War. She provided information to the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson

  • Collection Links: autograph album and scrapbook containing letters, comments, and newspaper clippings

Harry Elkins Widener – Philadelphia businessman and book lover. He died in the sinking of the Titanic. After his death, his mother built the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University in his memory

National History Day Research Appointment Form FAQ

Q: If I’m not sure what to put in a field, what should I do?
A: You can put something like “unsure”. The Librarian will be in touch with you with any questions!

Q: What do I put in the “Purpose” field?
A: You can put National History Day. The librarian will know what that means.

Q: What do I put for “Type of project”?
A: If you know which kind of NHD project: paper, performance, presentation, you can put that. If you aren’t sure yet, put what you are thinking of doing.

Q: What if I don’t know what specific material I will need yet?
A: That’s fine! You can put “I don’t know” or put the general topic – the librarian will ask questions and/or gather several options for you.

Q: What if I change my mind at some point?
A: That’s ok! Reach out to the librarian, or when you are at your appointment, you can talk about what you are thinking of changing to.

NHD Research at the Rosenbach FAQ

Q: Can my research group come together to research?
A: Yes, but each person needs to fill out their own research appointment form.

Q: Ok, I made an appointment and it has been confirmed. Now what?
A: To get into the Rosenbach’s Reading Room, make sure you have a school ID. If you don’t have a school ID, you can use an institutional identification card, a driver’s license, or passport. You will have to fill out a form about what you want to research and why. This is so staff members can help you locate what you need.

Q: What should I bring with me? What can I bring with me? What can’t I bring with me?

  • You need something to take notes with – PENCILS ONLY to write with.
  • You may bring a laptop or tablet or something similar to take notes on if you choose.
  • Before you take pictures, you have to fill out a form – you can ask for this. If you take pictures, you CANNOT use flash. Ask the librarian for this form.
  • You cannot bring a book bag, purse, computer bag, or anything like that into the room with you, but there are lockers with removable keys that you can use to store those things. The lockers are free!
  • You can only bring other books in with special permission. You can ask the librarian for permission when she contacts you to set up the research appointment.
  • You may have your notebook/papers/etc. inspected by staff before leaving – this is to make sure all rules are followed.
  • Food and drink is not allowed in the reading room

Research Dos and Don’ts

  • DO treat all materials with care. If you have a question about how to treat an item, ask!
  • DO turn pages carefully, and DO use a book holder if told to.
  • DO handle art by their paper frames only.
  • DO cite your sources. Check the Chicago Style Handbook or MLA handbook if you have any questions, or go online to OWL at Purdue for help.
  • DO ask for help if you need it. The staff members are here to help!
  • DON’T put anything on the items except for book weights which keep the pages of the books open.
  • DON’T try to fix something if it seems out of place. Ask a staff member for help.

Students under the age of 13 of must be accompanied by a parent/guardian.