NHD Exhibit Guide
NHD Exhibits
• A three-dimensional visual representation of
research and interpretation of the topic’s
significance in history
• Analysis and interpretation of your topic must be
clear and evident to viewers
• Labels, captions, and other text should be used
creatively with visual images, objects, and design
to enhance the message of your exhibit
• Your exhibit should make a clear connection to
the NHD theme and tell a meaningful story
NHD Exhibit Rules
• Size limits: no larger than 40 inches wide, 30 inches deep, and
6 feet high
• Circular/rotating exhibits or those meant to be viewed from all
sides: no more than 30 inches in diameter or diagonal (the
diagonal becomes the depth when viewed from the corner)
• Word limit: 500-word limit on student-composed text
More about word limit
• Media devices may run for a maximum total of 3 minutes
More about incorporating media
• Title page, process paper, and annotated bibliography are
required – place 3 copies on the table in front of your exhibit
(staple sets of papers in upper left corner, no binder or cover)
• No formal prepared presentation during interview – judges will
lead the discussion and ask questions
Important Considerations
If you are thinking about the exhibit category, ask yourself
these questions:
Do you have a topic in mind that will have plenty of good
visual images available?
- for ancient-early modern topics you may need to
depend on reproductions of paintings or photos of
historical sites in addition to maps, graphs, etc.
Can you assemble the exhibit with attention to detail?
- you will need to cut precisely, glue carefully, etc.
Do you have access to tools and other resources?
- good quality paper cutter, art supplies, photo paper
and good printer or commercial printing, matting, etc.
Early Steps: Research and Planning
• Give yourself time to accomplish much of your
research before you start planning the layout of
your exhibit
• As you research, save copies of any images you
might use in your exhibit – be sure to note source
citation information for your bibliography, and
sort these images by categories (you might re-sort
later as you do more research)
• provides a useful online
tool for organizing your information and images
Bibliography and Historical Quality
• The bibliography is one of the very most important
parts of your NHD project
• The bibliography shows how you meet 3 out of 6
components in the historical quality criteria:
- Shows wide research
- Uses available primary sources
- Research is balanced
• There is no “magic number” of sources, but good
projects are based on thorough research in books,
primary documents, scholarly library databases, and
even interviews and visits to museums or historic
places – do not stop researching after a quick Google
search; it is normal for very high quality entries to be
based on 50+ primary and reliable secondary sources
Bibliography Tips
• Create your bibliography in Word – even if you are using an
online bibliography tool such as
• Start your bibliography as soon as you find your first source
• Add to your bibliography AS YOU GO, every time you find
another good source
• As you add to your bibliography, place each bib citation in the
correct order alphabetically by the main author’s last name
• If there is no author listed for your source, place the citation in
the correct order alphabetically by the first main word in the
title (but be careful – most good sources will list an author)
• Write a brief annotation for each source AS YOU GO – for
online secondary sources be sure to explain the author’s
credentials if the source is not a book, scholarly article from a
library database, or material published by a major museum,
university, government agency, or well-known organization
• More information about the bibliography
Planning your Exhibit
• Start with the 3-column chart you used to organize information when you
wrote your thesis statement
• List your thesis statement and below the thesis statement, write 3-5
sentences that advance the argument of your thesis statement
• Use the main idea of each sentence as an organizational focus for a
different section of your exhibit (you may find you can use these
sentences in the text you include in each part of the exhibit)
• As you are planning the focus for each section, keep in mind the images
or other items you have available – you want to have your exhibit visually
• Also consider how you will address the historical context (perhaps with a
timeline) and how you will address aspects of the theme (best woven in
throughout the exhibit but you might also want to make it the specific
focus of one section)
• Once you have decided on major sections, you can start writing text
sections and captions and begin selecting the images, reproductions of
documents, quotations, artifacts, etc. you will include in your exhibit
• The parts you get written will let you see what you still need to research
and also give you ideas about how to best organize your exhibit
Organizing the Exhibit – General Tips
• You don’t need to label it, but make sure your thesis statement is
clear and stands out – a good place is near the top of the central
panel in a 3-panel exhibit
• Think about how people tend to read (left to right, top to bottom) as
you plan placement of text and other material
• A straight linear arrangement is best – people generally don’t have to
tilt their heads sideways to read text or view images when they visit
exhibits in a museum
• Allow “white space” – enough room between each item on the
exhibit so the overall effect does not appear cluttered and busy
• Big is usually better; a common “clarity of presentation” mistake in
exhibits is to make the font/images too small to see clearly from at
least 3 feet away – use as much of the allowed exhibit size as you can
• Give each section of the exhibit a specific focus, and consider section
subtitles (but remember every word counts)
• This is a good 5-minute video about how to plan an exhibit project:
(QuickTime required to view; it will take several minutes to load)
Generic Template for Exhibit Layout – important elements
to include, but arrangement/design is up to you!
Title – may incorporate theme words
Introduction to topic –
include your analysis and
interpretation; connect to
theme if you can
THESIS Statement: big, bold, in strategic
location on exhibit to attract viewers’
attention – definitely should incorporate
theme words
context of topic – include
your analysis and
interpretation; connect
to theme if you can
Use carefully selected images (maps,
photos, posters, etc.) and documents
with captions plus brief quotations to
help tell your story in each section –
think about the purpose /focus of the
section as you select items
Details about how your
topic started/developed in
history – include your
analysis and interpretation;
connect to theme if you
Important details about topic
(the story) with your analysis,
interpretation, and clear
connection to theme – you
might want to subdivide this
Consequences or
impact of topic –
include your analysis
and interpretation;
connect to theme if
you can
Conclusion – connect
to theme and address
the significance of
topic in history;
rephrase the thesis
without simply
A timeline will help put your topic in context and tell the story – a good placement is across
the bottom of the exhibit or across the middle (dividing the exhibit in half horizontally)
Specific Exhibit Considerations
• Keep the limit of 500 student-composed words constantly in mind –
make sure each word you use is necessary to help support your thesis
• Images and quotations from primary sources and experts as well as
brief primary documents or excerpts can help tell your story without
using up your word limit – but remember that viewers will not take
time to read lengthy documents on your exhibit
• Try to have at least half of your own 500 words of writing directly
addressing connections to the theme and explaining your analysis
and interpretation of the facts – focus on historical significance
• A timeline is a meaningful addition for most exhibit topics – it helps
set the historical context and gives viewers a sense of how the topic
developed over time and fits in history; students sometimes quote
timelines from published authors to save words, but it is really better
to write your own and include only the most important factors
• Make sure it is very clear to your viewers when you are quoting – use
quotation marks and identify the author/speaker
More Exhibit Board Tips
• If you use commercial cardboard tri-fold boards, consider using
two boards to make a taller exhibit (attach/reinforce with thin
wood strips or yard sticks and heavy tape on the back)
• If you have help and resources available, a simple hinged
wooden frame could be recycled and used for many years (and
folded down for easy transport); see note about adult help
• A wooden frame can be covered with fabric or fitted with
cardboard or foamcore inserts
• Solid wood boards are not recommended as they are very heavy
• Styrofoam pieces cut slightly smaller than exhibit elements can
be attached between the board and the element for a 3-D effect
• Make your exhibit and all text and image elements on it big
enough to see and read from at least 3 feet away.
• The classic folding panel board design is most effective –
exhibits that are designed to be shaped like an object rarely
work well (the shape tends to become a distracting “gimmick”)
This exhibit’s title “Encountering the
Counter – The Oklahoma City Sit-ins”
makes a great connection to the theme of
Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in
History (2004)
This full-exhibit photo does not let us
see the thesis statement, but this is a
likely place for it; increasing the
size/prominence is a possible
Design strengths:
 Unified color scheme – black and white
suit the topic of opposition to segregation;
the red and tan provide visual contrast
 Layered matting helps give importance
to each element while keeping the collage
background from being too “busy”
 The pictorial time line divides the
exhibit space and along with the silhouette
figures suggest the setting of a lunch
 The layout of each section is well
balanced but not boringly symmetrical
 Text and images are big enough for
viewers to read and appreciate
Above: the student gained additional display space by designing
hinged panels that can be moved to view from both sides.
The nautical-patterned table drapes reinforce the theme of
migration, but they count as part of the height measurement of
the exhibit; omitting the drapes would leave more space for
the actual exhibit, allowing items to be larger and less crowded.
These exhibits use the table space in front for additional display area.
The “architectural” elements of these exhibits can be achieved with inexpensive paintable
Styrofoam “molding” from a baumarkt. Note: lighting, plexiglas covers, etc. are unnecessary
expenses; judges will be looking for effectively presented solid research, not high cost projects.
A variety of tools and software programs can be
used to create an engaging exhibit:
PowerPoint (it is easy to place text sections and
graphics anywhere on page)
Inspiration (timelines, flowcharts, etc.)
Publisher (larger banner-style print jobs)
Photoshop (collages and special effects)
Cricut machine or manual die cutter for letters
and shapes (Cricut was used for this title board and
large quotation; many schools have these)
Flatbed or rotary cutter and mat
Real X-ray film (mounted on light box)
Keeping economy in mind – how to create your
NHD exhibit without spending a fortune….
To use large pieces of heavy cardboard for the exhibit board (moving
cartons, appliance or mattress box, etc.):
- place the cardboard you are cutting on top of another piece of
cardboard to protect the work surface and use a sharp utility knife
- use a large T-square to draw and cut precise 90° angles
- on the back side of the cardboard, carefully score lines where you
want the exhibit board to fold (to score: cut only part-way through
from the back; if possible, cut parallel to the corrugated lines rather
than across so it will fold more easily)
- or try to use the corners of the box as fold lines instead of scoring
- spread an inexpensive plastic drop cloth out before you paint
- paint with a small roller to completely cover the cardboard; apply
paint lightly and allow to dry between coats (saturating the board
with paint will cause it to warp); lay the board flat to dry and weight it
if needed to prevent warping
- covering the board completely with fabric or heavy paper is another
option; good materials may be found in the drapery department of a
baumarkt, craft/art supply stores, or office/stationary stores
Title Page and Process Paper
• Title Page should include only the title of the entry, your
name(s), and the contest division (JR or SR) and category
• The process paper describes in 500 words or less how you
conducted your research and created your entry.
• The process paper should include four sections that explain:
how you chose your topic
how you conducted your research (include details about how you
went about finding sources, particularly useful sources, etc.)
how you selected your presentation category and created your
project (include specific details about software and tools used, etc.)
how your project relates to the NHD theme – be specific
Collate in order: title page, process paper, and bibliography;
provide three sets of required paperwork and place them on
the table in front of your exhibit (staple in upper left corner;
do not use a binder, folder, or report cover)
Annotated Bibliography
• List all sources that contributed to the development of your entry and
sources that provided usable information or perspectives, including
interviews, visits to historic sites, museums, visual materials and artifacts
• Divide your bibliography into separate sections for primary and secondary
sources; students with many different sources often create additional
subdivisions within each category to specify the type of source (i.e., books,
articles, images, multimedia, interviews, etc.); subdivision is not required
• Acceptable NHD styles for bibliography and citations: MLA or Turabian;
consult the appropriate style guide and be consistent
• Annotations should very briefly describe the source and explain how it was
useful in the development of the project
• Annotations for any websites used should describe who sponsors the site; if
the reliability of the site is not readily apparent (i.e., major museum,
educational institution, or well-known organization), explain the website
author’s credentials in the annotation
• Observe standard bibliography conventions: hanging indent, double
spacing, alphabetize entries by main author’s last name or first main word
of title or item if there is no author (note: no recognized bibliography
formats include numbered or bulleted entries)
Crediting Sources
• In addition to citing in your bibliography, the source of
direct quotations, images, and any other kinds of media
such as video or audio should be credited on the exhibit
board itself, ideally right under or next to the item – not a
full bibliographic citation, but something like this:
Source: American Memory Project,
Library of Congress.
Short source credits like this do not
count as part of the 500-word limit.
• If you use scanned images from books or save and import
them from a website, simply credit the book/website author
500-Word Limit
• Applies to all text on the exhibit written in the student(s)’ own
words, including titles, subtitles, captions, graphs, timelines, media
devices, or supplemental materials (photo album, scrapbook, etc.
– do not include supplementary material such as interview
transcripts, texts of laws or court cases, or other lengthy primary
or secondary sources)
• Brief citations crediting the sources of images, artifacts, media
files, or quotations do not count as part of 500-word limit
• A date counts as one word, while each word in a name is
individually counted; short words such as “a,” “the,” and “of”
count as one word each
• Quotations do not count in the 500-word limit, but be very
selective in choosing quotations; covering your exhibit with
quotations will only diminish the power of every one of them
• Do look for possible quotations that contain some of the theme
words and might serve well as a title or section subtitle
Incorporating Media
• Multi-media features are not required but can be a nice
enhancement to an exhibit
• Total running time cannot exceed 3 minutes
• May include video or audio devices, computer (i.e.,
PowerPoint – but remember any student-composed text
would count in the 500-word limit), digital photo frame, etc.
• Media components must be integral to the exhibit, not a
method to bypass the prohibition against live student
involvement (so you can include a brief excerpt from a
student-conducted recorded interview or a dramatic reading
of a brief primary source, but not a recorded narration)
• Viewers must be able to start/stop any media; direction signs
such as “push here for video” count in the 500-word limit
Adult Help
• All NHD projects, including exhibits, must be student work
• If students are not experienced users of power tools or other
potentially dangerous equipment such as utility knives, they may
have adult assistance with these items only
• All design elements must be the students’ ideas – students must
draw out the plans, calculate measurements for cutting, determine
which materials to use, etc.
• Any work that can be done by students must be: sanding, painting,
gluing, etc. – this includes assembly and set-up of the exhibit at the
competition site
• Safety is the primary consideration, not artistic expertise; if students
want to include specially-designed elements in exhibits such as
paintings, drawings, models, paper mâché, clay sculpture, etc. they
must create these items themselves, but they may need adult help
with tasks such as machine sewing

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