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History Fair Rules & Guidelines


This section contains the Rules that govern projects submitted to the Chicago Metro History Fair. Additionally, it delineates the penalty points and clarifies the judging rationale. By organizing this information for participants, we hope students will be able to assess their own projects and make choices with full knowledge of the expectations of teachers and judges. Guidelines, on the other hand, are tips that we have gleaned over the years that will help improve student projects.

Before linking to specific sections of RULES & GUIDELINES, please read the following:

Important Notice for All Projects

  • Rules and guidelines aside, the foundation of a superior History Fair project is a solid thesis statement supported by evidence from primary and secondary sources.
  • Annotated bibliographies should be divided between primary and secondary sources. We recommend using the bibliography and citation rules in Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses & Dissertations (University of Chicago Press). The Modern Language Association format is also acceptable. Internet sources must be properly cited and distinguished in the bibliography also. Only the latest editions of style manuals will describe proper citations for internet sources.
    (Students may also seek assistance from the CMHEC link - Internet Guide.)
  • Plagiarism means using another author’s words without crediting him or her so that a reader would have the impression they are a student’s own thoughts and words. Plagiarism is not accepted—any project proven so will be disqualified and returned to the teacher.
    (Students and teachers may find it useful to review the CMHEC link - Plagiarism.)

National History Day (NHD) Eligibility

Characteristics Of History Fair Projects

Judging Rationale

Specific Rules and Guidelines

Click below to view online   or in a Portable Document Format (pdf)
Exhibits   Exhibits
Research Papers   Research Papers
Live Performances & Historical Voices   Live Performances & Historical Voices
Media Documentaries   Media Documentaries

National History Day (NHD) Eligibility

Do you know what that means?

"NHD" stands for "National History Day" which is a nationwide history contest. CMHEC offers students the opportunity to participate in NHD, but it is not mandatory—students are eligible to advance all the way to the state level and win awards and scholarships for any topic in local history. Each year, the NHD office names a particular historical theme that students may use to frame their topic (e.g., Rights & Responsibilities or Conflict & Compromise….). "NHD eligible projects" must be based on local Chicago history. (Junior HF students may also look at Illinois history.)

Teachers must register projects as "NHD Eligible" in order to be considered. If they advance from the regionals, high school students are required to submit an essay to CMHEC in order to maintain their NHD Eligibility status. The essay must make the case for the project’s relation to the NHD theme and link the topic to U.S. and/or world history. Students will receive a copy of the NHD Essay Form with their scorecards from the regionals.

There are specific rules governing projects that are selected to represent Illinois at the National History Day in June. Students should expect to revise and improve their projects further to meet those requirements. CMHEC will be available to help students prepare for NHD.

Characteristics Of History Fair Projects
& How To Improve Projects

History Fair projects typically fall into three different categories. By learning how to identify the characteristics of their projects, students will be better equipped to revise and improve them at each level of the academic competitions.

Historical Argument: This superior project begins with a clear thesis or claim, and then develops its argument through step-by-step use of primary and secondary sources as evidence. It grapples with complexity and the multiplicity of factors involved in any historical topic. It reveals the way society develops, how and why things change, and the political, social, economic and cultural factors involved. It also situates the topic in its historical context and within the context of U.S. or world history. Finally, the project’s conclusion is more than a summary of the argument and evidence presented; it addresses the historical significance of the topic, what we learn about society and change, and, perhaps, implications for the present.

Typical Score: 90 to 100 points

Example of Typical Title:

"Hull House and the Labor Movement: How Progressives Helped Turn the Tide for Immigrant Workers"

Tell A Story: A project in this category is a major improvement from a "Collection of Facts," because has a narrow focus, offers a solid story or explanation, and demonstrates a high level of knowledge. What separates an excellent from a superior project is the need for an argument about why and how something happened (or didn’t), its impact and significance, and the larger historical context. Instead, the project tends to reflect an "appreciation" of a topic and may slide into such terms as "the only" or "the most important" or "changed everything." to justify its importance.

Typical Score: 75-88 points

Example of Typical Title:

"The Role of Hull House in the Labor Movement"

Collection of Facts: These projects consist of a series of pictures with descriptive captions that read like a tour guide or captions that are no more than lengthy timelines. Often, there is no uniting theme or logic to the order in which the topic is being presented. Often topics are overly broad, such as Chicago Architecture or Jane Addams. Instead, try to narrow the focus and pose a historical question that the project then attempts to answer.

Typical score: 70-75 points

Example of Typical Title:

"The Many Achievements of Jane Addams"

History Fair Judge’s Scoring Rationale

Student projects are evaluated by a team of two "judges." The judges are volunteers who come from all walks of life—the common denominators are their commitment to quality education and respect for students. While there is a subjective nature to the judging process, CMHEC seeks to create a fair and objective environment by giving an orientation to judges on the day of the competition; asking judges to consult each other after the projects have been reviewed; and averaging their scores. Scores are not allowed to be more than 10 points apart. Judges are given the criteria, below, on which they base their scores.

Knowledge (30%)

-Are the facts gathered by the student appropriate and relevant to the thesis, demonstrating a mastery of historical facts?

-Does the project demonstrate an extensive use of knowledge?

-Is the conclusion based on historical research?

  Grades 9-12 Grades 6-8
Superior 30-29 35-32
Excellent 28-25 31-28
Good 24-23 27-25
Fair 22-21 24-21

Analysis (30%)

-Has the student(s) clearly identified a THESIS?

-Does the project begin with a question or problem and proceed to find an answer, make a point, and draw a conclusion?

-Does the project demonstrate change over time or cause and effect?

-Has the student related local history to larger historical themes or made a link to state or national/world history?

-Is the significance of the topic clearly demonstrated?

-Does the project go beyond a collection of facts and show evidence of analysis or interpretation?

  Grades 9-12 Grades 6-8
Superior 30-29 25-23
Excellent 28-25 22-20
Good 24-23 19-18
Fair 22-21 17-15

Quality of Source Material (20%)

-Has the student used a variety of primary and secondary sources to address the question/problem posed by the thesis?

-Is it evident that the sources in the bibliography have actually been used in the project?

-Is there heavy and unnecessary reliance on Internet sources? Do students use those sources as primary or secondary sources? Is there evidence that the student has evaluated the credibility of the Internet source?

  Grades 9-12 Grades 6-8
Superior 20-19 20-18
Excellent 18-17 17-16
Good 16-15 15-14
Fair 14-13 13-12

Quality of Presentation (20%)

-Does the project FLOW logically from beginning to end?

-Does the project tell a story (have a narrative structure)?

-Is the student using the most appropriate medium to present his or her work?

-Does the physical appearance show attention to detail in terms of neatness, proofreading, subheadings?

-Does the project reflect creativity and imagination without relying on elaborate or expensive ornamentation?

  Grades 9-12 Grades 6-8
Superior 20-19 20-18
Excellent 18-17 17-16
Good 16-15 15-14
Fair 14-13 13-12