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History Fair Rules & Guidelines
History Fair Rules & Guidelines

Read the NEW 2015 RULES for all projects submitted to the Chicago Metro History Fair. The rule book contains (1) the rules that all projects must follow, (2) required materials for all projects, (3) the specific, additional rules for each category, and (4) information on how projects are evaluated.

Spanish version of NHD Rule Book

CMHEC also offers individual Category Manuals which contain ideas and best practices for developing the final project.


There are three different ways you can view the History Fair Rule Book:

new rulebook cover

1. NEW History Fair Rule Book (for flat sheets 8.5 x 11 stapled printing)

2. NEW History Fair Rule Book (for booklet printing) Printing instructions: 1. Landscape, 2. Double-sided, 3. Flip on short-edge.

link 3. View History Fair Rule Book as a "flipbook" through Issuu.com


This summary of major rule changes and minor rule clarifications is intended as a quick “at-a-glance” reference too. The History Fair encourages teachers to carefully read the full History Fair Rule Book before beginning the program for the complete rules.  Note that several rules not mentioned below have subtle changes in language that may affect interpretation of the rules and guidelines.

NEW Rules for All Categories:

  • Topics must connect with Chicago or Illinois history in order to advance to the state contest (and to be considered for NHD). Non-Illinois topics, however, are permitted at the regional and finals competitions.
  • Word counts must be provided for exhibits, websites, and papers. Time lengths must be provided for documentaries and performances. See instructions in the individual category rules regarding word counts. [The Summary Statement has been updated to include word count and time lengths.]

Paper Category:

  • The paper is preceded by a title page (title, student name, division/category, and word count only), Summary Statement, and outline. It concludes with an Annotated Bibliography, which is divided between primary and secondary sources. History Fair no longer requires a separate thesis page for papers; the thesis should be embedded in the paper’s introduction.

Exhibit Category:

  • Students must provide a brief source credit on the exhibit board for each displayed visuals/quotations/material (for example, “Jane Addams, 1908, Hull-House Museum”), with a full citation provided in the bibliography.
  • The exhibit’s student-composed word count must be provided on the Summary Statement. This includes the text that students write for titles, subheadings, labels, analytic/explanatory captions, graphs, timelines, media devices, or supplemental materials (e.g. photo albums, scrapbooks, etc.) where students use their own words. Brief source credits (see above) do not count. A date (January 1, 1903) counts as one word. Words such as “a,” “the,” and “of” should be counted. Each word in a name is counted individually. While the History Fair does not observe a formal word limit for exhibits, the program urges students to keep their interpretation concise as brevity is both a good skill for students to learn and best practice for exhibits. History Fair exhibits should not be a “book on a board.” Consider using no more or less than 750-1,000 student-composed words.
  • There are different types of exhibit text. Subheadings identify the major sections of the exhibit and help the viewer understand how to navigate the display. Labels synthesize multiple pieces of historical evidence to present the historical interpretation for a particular section of an exhibit. Labels are typically 50-75 words, supported by 2-4 pieces of historical evidence drawn from primary and secondary sources. Labels are preceded and followed by a longer introduction (with a thesis) and a conclusion. Captions are usually shorter and may analyze a single source. Avoid heavy use of captions that begin with “This is an image of…” Instead, students should focus on their ideas and argument and let the visuals stand as evidence for the project’s claims. Credits are brief and identify (as opposed to analyzing or explaining) the source of an image or quote (e.g. “Jane Addams, 1908, Hull-House Museum”).

Documentary Category:

  • Documentaries are presented from a DVD player – either from within a computer or attached to a television (flash usb's may be used as back-ups). Be sure to burn the complete files, and try on different players before the contest. Internet access is generally not available at the competitions, so do not plan to present your documentary from YouTube or other online storage.

Website Category:

  • Website entries may contain no more than 1,200 student-composed words. Students must state the number of student-composed words on the home page. The following do not count toward the word limit: quotations; brief credits identifying the source of visuals or quotations; recurring menus, titles, and navigation instructions; required word count notification; words within primary documents and artifacts; and the Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography, which must be integrated into the site.  All other text written by students, including explanatory or analytic captions, do count.
  • The website may contain multimedia clips (audio, visual, or both) that total no more than four minutes (e.g. use one four-minute clip, four one-minute clips, etc.). Music is included in the four-minute total. Students may record quotations and primary source materials for dramatic effect, but may not narrate their own compositions or explanatory material. If students use any media that requires a specific software to view (e.g. Flash, QuickTime, Real Player), they must provide a link to an Internet site where the software is available as a free, secure, and legal download. You may not use embedded material or link to external websites, except for software plug-ins. The entire site, including all media, must be no more than 100 MB.
  • Credit sources on webpages—All visuals, quotations from written sources and closely paraphrased accounts must be credited within the website. Brief credits to identify source (for example, “Jane Addams, 1908”) do not count toward the student-composed word limit; paraphrasing does. All sources must be completely and properly cited in the Annotated Bibliography.
  • Do not use Google Drive for the Reference Materials on the website. Judges cannot open files stored in Google Drive and may have difficulty reading files stored in Scribd. Upload the Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography as PDF files.

National History Day has released a Spanish version of the competition rule book!

WARNING -- the CMHEC rule book (see above) supersedes the NHD rule book.

Especifically of note:

  • Topics must be connected to Chicago/Illinois and use NHD theme in order to be eligible for the national competition.
  • Exhibits do not need to hold to a 500-word count.

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