NHD 2015 Topic Ideas PDF Print E-mail


History Fair now offers you topics – some of them are specific, some of them of broad – but in all cases,  we give you only a title and leave it to you to do the work to find out what it is about and what kind of argument you want to make regarding its rights and responsibilities. Often you will have to dig deep to find a good and important story.  Treat most topics as ideas to inspire your own interests.



Power, Authority, and Governance, Reform and Social Justice

Interest in this area involves the way that government functions, how politicians lead, laws made and impact, and how citizens participate in government.

  • Business People for the Public Interest
  • John V. Farwell and Welfare Reform
  • Lucy Flower and the First Juvenile Court in Chicago (UIC)
  • Jane Addams, the Women’s Peace Party and the Hague Conference
  • John W.E. Thomas:  First African American Legislator and the Civil Rights Act
  • Grace Abbott and the Immigrant Protective League, or Childrens Bureau (UIC)
  • Who Leads the People? (Alinsky, IAH, and other Citizen’s Power groups) (UIC)
  • Pearl Hart: Human Rights Attorney (UIC)
  • The Sanctuary Movement: Chicago Leadership (WLA)
  • Alliance to End Repression and the Red Squad: Leading to First Amendment Rights (CHM)
  • Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Party (or Operation PUSH)
  • Paul Findley: Leadership in Middle East Diplomacy
  • Legacy of Dewey Defeats Truman
  • Clarence Darrow (capital punishment or crime or immigration, first amendment) (Newberry, CHM)
  • The Rosenwald Legacy: Racial Progress, Giving Away a Fortune
  • Harold Washington (Development and the Neighborhoods, Council Wars, Latino Coalition…)
  • Father Michael Pfleger
  • Dorothy Gautreaux, Polikoff, and the BPI, CHA (NARA, HWLC)
  • Michael Shakman and Civil Service Reform
  • The Struggle for Japanese-American Reparations (JASC)
  • Founding of Roosevelt University (RU)
  • Roosevelt, Conventions and the Third-Term Question
  • Quentin Young: Health Care for the People (NU)
  • Great Lakes Naval Station and the Integration of Troops
  • Civilian Conservation Corp in Chicago and Illinois
  • Women in the Navy (GLNM)
  • Rotary International’s Global Fight Against Polio (Rotary)
  • Margaret Haley: Professionals and Unionists (Newberry,
  • Independents and the Daley Machine (UIC)
  • Beyond the Jungle: UPWA and the Clean Meat Act of 1967 (RU)
  • The Chicago Conspiracy Trial: Unravelling Leadership? (NARA, CHM)
  • Student Activism  and Leadership on particular campuses (see most University Archives)
  • Citizen Power! (UIC)
  • Women’s Leadership in Chicago’s Response to Homelessness (WLA)
  • Jon-Henri Damski and the Struggle for the Chicago's Human Rights Ordinance (Gerber-Hart)
  • Restorative Justice, Crime and the Legacy of Clarence Darrow
  • Justice, Not Political Expediency: The Leadership of John Peter Altgeld
  • Political Voice and Power in the Latino/a Community


Interest in this area involves studying labor,  trade, business, advertising, consumerism

  • Albert Lasker and the Foundation of Modern Advertising (CHM)
  • Marshall Field’s Leading Role in Merchandising
  • Consumerism lead to change (boycotts, Nestle [DePaul], Apartheid [Columbia], packaging and pricing...)
  • Carson, Pirie, Scott and the Fashion Maven
  • University of Chicago Economists, Milton Friedman, and Effects on Foreign Economies (UC)
  • Farmers markets for the heartland.  In 1970s, farmers convinced to spot growing food ad grow commodities instead
  • Ebony, Advertising, and African-American Consumerism (Harsh)
  • The IWW—Leading the Way to Industrial Unionism (Newberry, CHM)
  • Beyond Burnham- Leadership and Conflict in the Planning of the Modern City
  • Reagan and the PATCO Strike
  • Legacy of the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre (Roosevelt)
  • Legacy of the Haymarket Tragedy
  • Railroads and How Chicago Became the Center of the Nation (Newberry)
  • When Chicago was the center of the nation’s manufacturing economy
  • The Policy Kings of Bronzeville: Exploiters or Leaders? (Harsh)
  • How Pullman Strike Changed Debs Life and Leadership (NARA)
  • John Fitzgerald, Victor Olander, Chicago Federation of Labor and Progressive Unionism  (CHM, UIC)
  • Elevation of the Tracks—An Engineering, and Citizen Action Feat
  • The Printing Industry, Candy Industry, Stockyards Industry, Musical Instruments Industry (HWLC)
  • Mail Order Catalog Industry: Amazon’s Great-Great Grandparents
  • Save Our Jobs: The Fight Against Steel Company Shutdowns (CHM)
  • Morton Grove: The Nation’s Greenhouse (MG Hist Archives)
  • Boosterism, Speculation and the Making of Chicago (CHM, Newberry)
  • Leadership in Working Class Housing: Saul Gross and the Bungalow
  • Alice Peurala: Taking on Sexism and the Bosses (NARA)

Scientific, Medical, and Technological Innovation

  • The Emergence of Fermilab (UC, NARA)
  • Manhattan Project
  • Atoms for Peace
  • Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
  • Preston Tucker (NARA)
  • J.S. Hynek: Leading Our Eyes to UFO (NU)
  • Dr. Abt’s Children: Leading Medical Understanding of Pediatrics (NU)
  • Leadership in Nursing Education: Cook County School of Nurses, Illinois Training School for Nurses (UIC)
  • Military Medicine: The 27th Evacuation Hospital of Charles Puestow (UIC)

Women, Gender and Family History

Interest in this area involves studying the historical experiences of men or women, boys and girls, transgendered person.  LGBT could issues also fall into this category.  What made their experiences significant? How did individuals and society define what it mean to be a man or woman at various times in our history--be it popular culture, work, sports, etc....  How and why did family life change over time in and particular contexts?

  • Betty Friedan and NOW (National Organization for Women)
  • Chicago NOW: Leadership Beyond the ERA
  • Mae Jemison: From the Peace Corps to Outer Space
  • Rape Crisis Centers and Rape as a Feminist Issue
  • Frances Willard: Temperance, Suffrage
  • Chicago Maternity Center , The Birth Center Law
  • Lamaze – The Most Natural Becomes the Most Unnatural…and back again
  • Bertha Palmer: Chicago’s Queen of the Gilded Age?
  • Louise de Koven Bowen: Wealth and Progressive Reform
  • How feminism exposed battered women (WLA)
  • How feminism exposed rape as a crime
  • The Women Take the Lead: The Chicago Labor Union Women
  • I Got a Hammer: The Chicago Women in the Trades
  • Elizabeth Drier Robins, Agnes Nestor and the Women’s Trade Union League
  • Why the ERA Failed, or Why it Almost Succeeded  (UIC, WLA)
  • Addie Wyatt: Leadership on Four Fronts (Harsh)
  • Terri Tepper and Taking a Stand: Women Keeping their Own Name
  • Mother Jones: The Miners Angel
  • The Case of Karen Francis Ulane (NARA)
  • Women Mobilized for Change (UIC)
  • Black Feminism in Chicago
  • Suffrage Movement in Illinois: Strategies for the 20th Century
  • Elizabeth Mahoney: Leader of the Working Class
  • League of Women Voters (UIC)
  • The Integration of the YWCA
  • Madeline Morris Stratton and the First Black History Curriculum in CPS (Harsh)
  • Women Religious and Human Rights in Central America
  • Ron Sable and the AIDS Crisis
  • The Black Women’s Clubs
  • Marion Talbot and Women in College (UC)
  • Alice Peurala: Taking on Sexism and the Bosses (NARA)

Arts, Architecture, Design, and Cultural History

Art, theater, architecture, and various methods of creative expression, and how they can both reflect and shape society, fall into this category.

  • Chicago Blues Leadership and the Urban Sound
  • Ardis Krainik and the Lyric Opera House
  • Katherine Kuh brings Modernism to AIC (AIC-BR)
  • School of the Art Institute and African-American student artists  (AIC-BR)
  • Mary Reynolds: Surrealist (AIC-BR)
  • Armory Show (AIC online)
  • Hairy Who
  • Loredo Taft
  • Richard Nickels
  • Chicago’s Leadership in Architectural Engineering and Design. Consider:  Jenny, Burnham & Root, der Rohe, Sullivan, Burnham, Wright….
  • Marion Mahony Griffin- Forgotten Leader of the Prairie School
  • Jens Jensen: Architect of the Landscape
  • Chicago Bauhaus [and Beyond:  Institute of Design, Baldwin Kingery Co. (AIC, IIT)
  • Second City and the Roots of Improv
  • Margaret Burroughs: From the Chicago Renaissance to the DuSable Museum
  • Don Cornelius and Soul Train (NU)
  • Wall of Respect and the Mural Movement
  • Bob Fosse: Reimagining Broadway
  • Hull House and the Little Theater Movement (UIC)
  • Black Arts Movement: Jones-Hogu, Fuller, and Cohran (NU, UC, SSCAC)
  • Redefining Dance: Katherine Dunham
  • Herb Kent is on the Air
  • Leading House Music to a Nationwide Sound: Frankie Knuckles
  • Third World Press, Path Press – Leadership in Independent Publishing of African-American Work: Haki Madhubti, Bennett Johnson
  • Chicago Broadcasting and the advent of new media—radio, tv
  • Judy Chicago and the Dinner Party
  • Maria Tallchief (Newberry)

Environmental and Geographical History

How did the land shape the lives of people, industry, and the built environment--and how did they shape the land to what consequences? How did concerns about the environment or lack of concern cause people to act in history?

  • Hazel Johnson, Altgeld Homes and Environmental Justice
  • Senator Paul Douglas and Saving the Indiana Dunes
  • Earth Day in Chicago
  • Mary McDowell and environmentalism
  • Leading the Parks Movements  (WLA, UIC)

Sports and Recreation

The daily experiences of people can often be defined by the ways that they pursue recreational opportunities. Free time and interests help to define life for individuals and or groups be it: professional, amateur, or commercial/marketing/business.

  • Golf and the Chicago Girl
  • The Emergence of Women’s College Sports: U of I Volleyball
  • A League of His Own: Hulbert and the Foundation of the National League
  • Hull House Women’s Athletics before WW2 (UIC)
  • Stagg:  Leader of the Opposition to Professional Sports
  • Peg Grey: The Founder and Organizer of LGBT Sports in Chicago (Gerber-Hart)
  • Ernie Banks
  • Abe Foster

Civil Rights

The history of race relations and the fight for civil rights in a dominant theme and story in US History. Civil rights issues can involve African-Americans, Latino/as, women, or people from other "minority" groups fighting for equality.

  • John Evans, American Indians, and the Foundation of Evanston and Northwestern
  • Montrose Village and the American Indian Movement (AIM)
  • Sisters and Civil Rights: Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the OBM (WLA)
  • Peggy Roach and the Contract Buyers League: Ending a Housing Scam (WLA)
  • The Black and White Abolitionists of Chicago
  • Pullman Porters
  • Owen and Elijah Lovejoy
  • George Leighton: Simple Justice is not so Simple (Harsh)
  • Alternative Schools in the Days Before Privatization and Charters: Howalton, Luumba-Jackson (Harsh)
  • SNCC, Freedom Summer and the Chicago Support  (Harsh, UIC)
  • SDS in Uptown-Peoples Leadership in the North
  • Mamie Till and T.R.M. Howard—Mourn, but Organize (Harsh)
  • Afro-American Patrolman’s League (Renault Robinson, Edward Palmer, Curtis Cowen) (NARA, Harsh, CHM)
  • Southern Leadership Council in Daley’s Chicago
  • Legacy of the Black Panther Party
  • The Richardson and the African-American Abolitionist Movement of Illinois (CHM)
  • Edward Cole and the Slave State Question in Illinois
  • CBTU, Paul King takes on the Construction Industry/Apprenticed Trades
  • Puerto Rican Organization for Political Action: Leadership in Voting Rights (NARA)
  • 1919 and the Failure of Leadership
  • Carl and Nannie Louise Hansberry: Leaders for Integration (NARA)
  • Fight for a Fair Employment Practices: Marches, Acts, Commission (Harsh, NARA)
  • Cha-cha Jimenez and the Young Lords (DePaul)
  • Mujeres en Accion (DePaul)
  • Refugio Martinez: Labor Organizer (NARA, CHM)
  • Nation-Building: African Students at Chicago in 30s Duke Kwesi Kuntu, Modupe Paris (UC)
  • Puerto Rican Cultural Center: Autonomy in the Community

Many Library of Congress sources exist for our topics, so check out our Using Library of Congress page for a curated list of sources for many of the topics listed above.

More topics ideas are available on our Topics Essays pages too.

(   ) means that there are archived papers and records of individuals and groups at the institution

AIC-BR=Art Institute of Chicago, Burnham-Ryerson Library

CHM=Chicago History Museum Research Center

Harsh=Harsh Collection at the Woodson Regional Library (CPL)

NARA=National Archives and Records Administration, Chicago Branch

UIC=Special Collections Library in the Daley Library at University of Illinois at Chicago

WLA=Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University, Lake Shore Campus



Support CMHEC Activities

Social Media


CMHEC on Blogger
(Under Construction)

google plus

CMHEC Photos on Google Plus


CMHEC on Facebook


Twitter @ChiHistoryFair

RocketTheme Joomla Templates