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Chicago Metro History Fair Exhibit Rules
Chicago Metro History Fair Exhibit Rules PDF Print E-mail
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A History Fair exhibit is like a room in a museum. It relies on clear, succinct text (labels) and a substantial amount of visual evidence to communicate the student's research and analysis.

newThe NEW Exhibit Category Rules

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

Download the Exhibit Rules

Exhibit Category Rules

Like exhibits in history museums, History Fair exhibits present a visual and textual interpretation using a combination of student-composed text, quotations, and strong visuals. The project must strike a balance between substantive, brief interpretive text and the visual evidence needed to support the student’s ideas.

Exhibit Rules

  • Exhibits are created by individuals or groups of no more than five students.
  • Size limitations: 6 feet high x 40 inches wide x 30 inches deep. Measurement of the exhibit includes any materials students provide. So long as the exhibit fits within the required dimensions, it may be constructed in any shape. Circular or rotating exhibits or those meant to be viewed from all sides must be no more than 30 inches in diameter.
  • Exhibits must be free standing.
  • Media devices (e.g. DVD players, tablets, mp3 players, etc.) used in an exhibit must be limited to a total of no more than three minutes. Viewers and judges must be able to control media devices.
  • Students must provide a brief source credit on the exhibit board for 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, analytical/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.

Exhibit Competition Notes

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

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

Written materials should be printed on plain white paper and stapled together—no binders. Place the written materials in front of the exhibit. Judges will ask to keep at least one copy of the project’s written materials. Exhibit students should expect to be interviewed at the competition following judging.

Exhibit Guidelines

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

  • 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.
  • Exhibits should have a logical flow: People reading the display should know where to begin and end, and in what order they should read the text and view the evidence. Use of clearly defined subheadings to guide the reader is highly encouraged.
  • Exhibits should use visual evidence such as photographs, cartoons, maps, and graphs. Quotations, both from primary and secondary sources, are also appropriate forms of evidence, but should be used strategically.
  • 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”).
  • History Fair is not responsible for media equipment or artifacts that are lost or damaged in the course of History Fair; students are responsible for the safety and security of their displays.
  • Timelines help sequence events but have limited effectiveness for conveying knowledge and analysis. While they are helpful to students during the research phase, timelines are not required nor encouraged as a component of the exhibit.
  • Exhibits are evaluated based on the historical quality of the display, the Summary Statement, and Annotated Bibliography. Supplemental models, artifacts, binders, electronic devices, and other supporting materials should only be used when they forward the project’s historical interpretation. Extravagant elements neither enhance nor detract from a project’s overall evaluation.


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


  • Exceeds size limits: Minus 3 points
  • No Summary Statement: Minus 10 points
  • Bibliography not annotated: Minus 5 points
  • No bibliography: 0 points in source category

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.
  • 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.


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