Chicago Metro History Fair Documentary Rules PDF Print E-mail
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Documentaries are visual and oral productions of students' historical research, analysis, and interpretation which have a narrative structure and are created and presented on via DVD. Websites are not accepted in the Documentary category.

newThe NEW Documentary Category Rules

Wondering what has changed? Read the Summary of the New Rules and Clarifications.


Download the NEW Documentary Rule Book


Documentary Category Rules

Documentaries allow students to communicate their ideas through visuals (photographs, video footage, etc.) and pre-recorded narration. Similar to the documentaries one may see on television, historical documentaries allow students to communicate an argument through a script and support it with visual evidence drawn from primary and secondary sources. Documentaries are presented from a DVD player. To produce a documentary, students must have access to editing equipment and be able to operate it.

Documentary Rules

  • Documentaries are created by individuals or groups of no more than five students.
  • Documentaries may not exceed ten minutes in length. Time begins when the first image or sound appears and ends after the last visual/sound concludes. The length of the documentary must be provided on the Summary Statement.

Each project submitted to History Fair must be accompanied by the Documentary Entry Form at the time of registration. The best final format for a documentary is a MP4, AVI, or WMV file, published and burned to a DVD. Due to multiple standards for DVD players, DVDs do not play on all devices; therefore, students should test their DVD on a number of players or bring their own laptop to the competition. Multiple entries from the same school should not share presentation equipment, as entries may be assigned at concurrent times. Internet access is generally not available at the competitions, so do not plan to present your documentary from YouTube or other online storage.

DOCUMENTARY PENALTY POINTS (High School only)

High School documentaries that violate the rules will be subject to penalty point deductions. Junior Division documentaries will not receive separate penalties.

  • Exceeds time limit: Minus 2 points for exceeding ten minutes, plus 2 points for each full minute thereafter (10 point maximum penalty)
  • Bibliography not annotated: Minus 5 points
  • No Summary Statement: Minus 10 points
  • No bibliography: 0 points in the sources category


Interviews: Students should not prepare a formal, verbal presentation; however, they should plan to respond to questions posed by judges. The interviews are important to the History Fair experience, but the entry is judged on its merits alone.

  • Plagiarism is unacceptable, and constitutes grounds for disqualification. [See www.plagiarism.org for further guidance.]
  • Items potentially dangerous in any way—such as weapons, firearms, animals, etc.—are strictly prohibited.
  • The Fair Use Doctrine allows students to use pre-existing materials (photos, footage, music, etc.) for educational purposes, including student productions like History Fair; therefore, students need not seek formal permissions within the context of the competition. However, if the project is shown in non-educational settings, then permissions should be sought as appropriate.
  • Teachers may have additional rules/restrictions for the History Fair at individual schools. Students should comply with all rules set by their teacher.

Required Materials

All projects must include an Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement. In the bibliography, each source should be annotated with a short description of how the student used that source. The bibliography must be divided between primary sources (sources from the time period or written by someone with firsthand knowledge) and secondary sources (sources written after the time period, typically by a historian). Bibliographies must follow either the Turabian or MLA style format. Include all sources that contributed useful information, perspectives, or visuals, but not necessarily every source consulted. Annotations may describe why students placed the source as primary/secondary if it is not immediately obvious; and, in the case of web sources, may also describe who sponsors the site. Bundle photos or other materials from the same collection into a single citation. Cite oral history transcripts, questionnaires, or other supplementary materials in the bibliography—do not provide copies of them. Students must acknowledge all sources used in the development of the entry in the annotated bibliography in order to avoid plagiarism.

The Summary Statement provides the project’s thesis, a summary of the argument, and information about the development of the project. The form is available on the History Fair website. Except for websites, the Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography should be printed on plain, white paper and stapled together. The Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement are not included in the word count.

  • Documentaries must be researched, created, narrated, and produced by the students registered (e.g. no external narrators). Students must operate all equipment used in the production of the project. Only those students listed as entrants may participate in the documentary’s production.
  • Students may use pre-existing photographs, video excerpts, music, etc. in their film with proper acknowledgement in the credits and Annotated Bibliography. However, students may not use material created by others specifically for their History Fair project (for example, an adult could not craft a musical or visual piece specifically to be used in the student’s project; “actors” should not provide dramatization).
  • Documentaries conclude with a list of credits for major audio and visual sources only. Credits should be brief—not full bibliographic citations. The Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement must be printed for the judges and do not appear on the documentary. All sources used in the documentary must be properly cited in the bibliography.
  • Documentaries are self-running. Live narration and other comments before or during the project are not permitted. PowerPoint projects, podcasts, and “performances on film” are not appropriate in the documentary category.
  • Students are allowed five minutes to set up and five minutes to remove equipment. Students should operate the equipment independently. Adults should not assist with set up of equipment. Students should use set-up time to prepare the documentary for presentation (adjust volume, etc.).

Documentary Competition Notes

When presenting at competition, students should announce only their name(s) and title of their project (not school) prior to showing their film.

Please bring three copies of the following materials to the contest:

  • Summary Statement
  • Annotated Bibliography, separated between primary and secondary sources [See “Required Materials” ]

Written materials should be printed on plain white paper and stapled together—no binders. Judges will ask to keep at least one copy of the written materials. Students may be asked to leave a copy of their film with the judges for History Fair purposes, but it is not required. The presentation concludes with a short interview with the judges.

Documentary Guidelines

[See "History Fair Project Guides"  and "Documentaries" for further guidance.]

  • Spend time watching and analyzing the types of documentaries available on PBS, the History Channel, and public access television. Pay attention to the elements, narrative, and structure of these documentaries to see how the professionals successfully communicate their ideas through this medium.
  • A documentary uses visual evidence such as photographs, maps, film clips, interviews, and other graphic images. Text is used minimally. Subtitles, quotations, and other highlights are appropriate, but the presentation should not rely heavily on printed text. While technical and creative quality are important, they do not outweigh the need for solid historical knowledge and analysis.
  • Clips from existing documentaries should be used sparingly. Overuse or long segments of footage from a professional production are discouraged. Most importantly, History Fair documentaries should present students’ own interpretations.
  • Audio can be a mix of student narration, interviews, and music. Narrators will be more successful if they enunciate and speak in measured tones. Soundtracks are best when relevant to content, and volume does not distract from the voiceover. When using interviews that are hard to understand, students may consider subtitles. Ask different people to listen to the documentary to make sure all types of people can understand the audio so that adjustments may be made before the final version.
  • There are no penalties for being under 10 minutes in length. If the documentary is significantly shorter, however, the judges may determine that the project needed more knowledge and analysis.

Rules for All Categories

  • Exhibits, documentaries, websites, and performances may be completed individually or by a group of 2-5 students. Papers are individual only. All students in a group entry must be involved in the research and interpretation of the group’s topic.
  • Topics must connect with Chicago or Illinois history in order to advance to the state contest. Non-Illinois topics are permitted at the regional and finals competitions.
  • Teachers often require integration of the National History Day theme, but the theme is not required by the Chicago Metro History Fair. Projects registered as “NHD eligible” will be assessed on how well their project integrates the NHD theme.
  • Students may research, create, and enter only one project each year. Sharing research in multiple projects is not permitted. Revising or reusing an entry from a previous year—whether one’s own or another student’s—may result in disqualification.
  • Entries submitted for competition must be original and have been researched and developed in the current contest year.
  • Students are responsible for the research, design, and creation of their own project, as well as operating their own equipment and materials. Students may receive advice from adults on the mechanical aspects of creating an entry and/or reasonable help necessary for safety, but the work must be completed by students. Feedback on the student’s work is permissible (help proofreading; suggestions or questions based on the student’s ideas, etc.). Materials created by others specifically for use in the entry violate this rule.
  • Each project is required to have a Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography. [See “Required Materials” ]
  • Word counts must be provided for exhibits, websites, and papers. Time lengths must be provided for documentaries and performances.
  • Exhibits, performances, and documentaries will be judged and interviewed at the public competitions. Papers and websites are judged in a separate stream, which may have different deadlines for submission. Paper and website entrants will have an opportunity to share their projects at the competitions.
  • Plagiarism is unacceptable, and constitutes grounds for disqualification. [See www.plagiarism.org for further guidance.]
  • Items potentially dangerous in any way—such as weapons, firearms, animals, etc.—are strictly prohibited.
  • The Fair Use Doctrine allows students to use pre-existing materials (photos, footage, music, etc.) for educational purposes, including student productions like History Fair; therefore, students need not seek formal permissions within the context of the competition. However, if the project is shown in non-educational settings, then permissions should be sought as appropriate.
  • Teachers may have additional rules/restrictions for the History Fair at individual schools. Students should comply with all rules set by their teacher.

Required Materials

All projects must include an Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement. In the bibliography, each source should be annotated with a short description of how the student used that source. The bibliography must be divided between primary sources (sources from the time period or written by someone with firsthand knowledge) and secondary sources (sources written after the time period, typically by a historian). Bibliographies must follow either the Turabian or MLA style format. Include all sources that contributed useful information, perspectives, or visuals, but not necessarily every source consulted. Annotations may describe why students placed the source as primary/secondary if it is not immediately obvious; and, in the case of web sources, may also describe who sponsors the site. Bundle photos or other materials from the same collection into a single citation. Cite oral history transcripts, questionnaires, or other supplementary materials in the bibliography—do not provide copies of them. Students must acknowledge all sources used in the development of the entry in the annotated bibliography in order to avoid plagiarism.

The Summary Statement provides the project’s thesis, a summary of the argument, and information about the development of the project. The form is available on the History Fair website. Except for websites, the Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography should be printed on plain, white paper and stapled together. The Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement are not included in the word count.

 

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