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Theme Information

Each year, National History Day® frames students’ research within a historical theme. The 2023-2024 theme is Turning Points in History. Your topic may focus on any geographic area, historical period, event, group, or individual, but it must relate back to the annual theme. Understanding the historical significance and context of your topic will help you draw a connection to the theme. Use the resources below to learn more about this year’s theme.

2024 NHD Theme Book

2024 NHD Theme Video

2024 NHD Theme Graphic Organizer 

NHD Theme Page

 

The gold logo for NHD's 2024 theme: Turning Points in History

Topics

What makes a "good" topic?

  • Narrow
  • Significant
  • "In History"
  • Sources
  • Theme Connection
  • Interest

You won't be able to tell your audience everything about your topic. A narrow topic is specific enough to be presented within the limits of your Michigan History Day project. The worksheet below may help you find the best topic for your project.

Rightsizing Your Topic

Additional Resources

2024 Michigan Topics 

Check back here often to see topic ideas and resources from museums and historical organizations across Michigan. 

Economic & Labor History

The Economic Impact of General Motors in mid-Michigan

The growth of General Motors greatly impacted the Flint area. GM World War II production led to social changes regarding who was allowed to work where. 

Resources: The Sloan Museum of Discovery in Flint has a large collection of General Motors material, including general manuscripts, photographs, and records from GM (http://sloanlongway.org/

Contact Information: Geoff Woodcox and Jonathan Kirkwood, collections@sloanlongway.org 


Flint Sit-Down Strike

The strike that was heard around the world! The Flint Sit-Down Strike occurred from December 1936 through February 1937 and was the first major labor dispute in the U.S. auto industry. The result of the strike was what can be considered the beginning of modern labor relations, sparked unionization around Michigan and the country, and solidified the United Auto Workers as a major union for the next fifty years.

Resources: Walter P. Reuther Library, especially the following collections: Henry Kraus Papers; Genora and Sol Dollinger Papers; multiple oral histories; photos, documents and other resources available

Contact Information: Dan Golodner, Archivist at ad6292@wayne.edu


Detroit Newspaper Strike

In July 1995, newspaper workers began a strike against the two major newspapers in Detroit. The strike quickly divided the city between those that supported the strike and those that did not. For over two years the workers struck over wages, job protection, and the basic survival of the newspaper industry. This strike is considered the “beginning of the end” of the major print newspapers and the start of online news.

Resources: Walter P. Reuther Library, especially the following collections: Detroit Newspaper Strike collection; Nancy E. Dunn Papers; Action Coalition of Strikers records

Contact Information: Dan Golodner, archivist, at ad6292@wayne.edu


The Impact of George and Frank Glazier on the Development of Chelsea

George and Frank Glazier - father and son businessmen- influenced the frontier of commerce in Chelsea.  George established the first bank in Chelsea in 1868. Frank established the "Best and Brightest" Stove Company that produced oil stoves shipped all over the world.

Resources: Pictures, articles, and documents at the Chelsea Area Historical Society & Museum. chelseahistory.org

Contact Information: Email president@chelseahistory.org or call 734-476-1020

Political History

The Flint Fair Housing Ordinance

The Flint Fair Housing Ordinance was the first fair housing ordinance of its kind in the United States and outlawed housing discrimination within the city. It passed in 1968 by 43 votes.

Resources: The Sloan Museum of Discovery in Flint (https://sloanlongway.org/)

Contact Information: Geoff Woodcox and Jonathan Kirkwood, collections@sloanlongway.org


Students with Disabilities

In the 1960s, the Disability Rights Movement was gaining strength. Wayne State University was one of the leading institutions in accommodating and championing students with disabilities. WSU became one of a handful of universities recognized for adaptive learning technologies and providing accessibility for students, putting the university in the forefront of this crucial turning point in history.

Resources: Walter P. Reuther Library, especially the following collections: WSU; office of Educational Resources for Students with Disabilities Records

Contact Information: Dan Golodner, archivist, at ad6292@wayne.edu


Native American Programs 1974-1976

Materials from Bradley H. Patterson’s work on legislation and policies concerning Native Americans, and his work as a White House liaison between Federal officials and tribal organizations. The files portray the living conditions of Native Americans and legal, social, and economic problems of specific tribes and reservations. Patterson's efforts to channel complaints to appropriate federal officials, monitor legislation, and arrange meetings with national and regional Indian organizations are well documented. 

Resources: https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/guides/findingaid/pattersonfiles.asp

Contact Information: Email Richard Weld at Richard.Weld@NARA.gov.


Politics and the Ford White House

The Ford White House saw many turning points during the 1970s. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library has multiple sources for the following topics:

  • For global political affairs, the Ford presidency was the time of the end of the Vietnam War, the beginning of the SALT treaty, and the Helsinki Accords. There is a lot of Cold War history to be had here.
  • The end of the Vietnam War brought refugees to the U.S. (including those children part of Operation Babylift), changing the demographics of America.
  • There is also the Bicentennial to look at - a massive celebration of America and a point when the country sort of "turned the corner" on when we were a young nation.
  • And then, of course, there is the Nixon resignation, the invocation of the 25th Amendment, and the entire run-up to the 1976 election with President Carter.

Resources:  There are materials in the library’s online collection https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/collections-digital.aspx, but students are also welcome to visit the Library in Ann Arbor, and see the records for themselves.

Contact Information: Email Richard Weld at Richard.Weld@NARA.gov.


George Washington and Mount Vernon

Staff from Mount Vernon has created a webpage with resources from their collection that connect to this year's theme.

Resources: https://www.mountvernon.org/education/for-students/national-history-day-support/

Science & Technology

Alexis St. Martin & Dr. William Beaumont

After a terrible accident left a young fur trader with an open stomach wound, Fort Mackinac surgeon Dr. William Beaumont performed a series of experiments that helped doctors and scientists understand how the stomach digests food. This marked a turning point in both medical understanding and international regard for American medical training.

Resources: Mackinac State Historic Parks, https://www.mackinacparks.com/

Contact Information: Brian Jaeschke, JAESCHKEB@michigan.gov


The F-117 and Innovation

For students interested in more contemporary turning points, the Air Zoo's latest acquisition, the F-117, is all about the need for stealth and reconnaissance and students could investigate what drove that need and what the U.S. did with what we learned.

Resources: Air Zoo in Portage, https://www.airzoo.org/ 

Contact Information: April Bryan (abryan@airzoo.org) and Ben Page (bpage@airzoo.org)


Gamewell Fire Alarm

An idea that changed history was the Gamewell Fire Alarm. People used to run around and yell for help or ring bells but that didn't tell you where the fire was. It was very slow and houses would burn down. When the Gamewell was commercialized and bought by fire departments, suddenly using a fire box at your street corner brought in the fire department to the correct location. Many lives and property were saved.

Resources: There is a Gamewell alarm at the Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum in Bay City. There are docents available to explain the history and work with the student to see an old Bay City artifact located in the City Hall museum.

Contact Information: Email info@toyandfirehousemuseum.org.


Horse Drawn Fire Engines

The invention of the Steam-powered, horse drawn fire engine changed firefighting forever. It introduced a way to pump water on a fire with a system that did not rely on people providing the power. Prior to that, people pulled a cart and then hand-pumped water. The problem? The engines were too big for people to pull or push! Horses solved that problem, and they were much faster. They also paved the way for the motorized fire truck. The first idea to break through that frontier was the horse drawn fire engine.

Resources: The Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum houses many of the horse-drawn fire apparatus (on loan from the Castle Museum of Saginaw County). There are docents available to show the artifacts and explain the history to the student.

Contact Information: Email info@toyandfirehousemuseum.org.

Local History

The Goodridges document Saginaw history

The Goodridges were African American photographers who moved to Saginaw in the 1860s and documented the growth of the lumber industry, the city, and the shift into industry in the early 20th century. 

Resources: View the Goodridge photograph collection at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, https://www.castlemuseum.org/

Contact Information: Jennifer Vannette, jvannette@castlemuseum.org


Urban Renewal

The 1960s was a time of intense upheaval and urban development for many communities across Michigan.  Under the guise of restoring economic vitality in downtown areas, “Urban Renewal” programs often led to the loss of historic buildings and neighborhoods, displaced whole communities, and disproportionately affected minorities.

Resources: Museums and archives with strong collections documenting urban renewal in their communities include the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History in Saginaw (https://www.castlemuseum.org/) and the Sloan Museum of Discovery in Flint (https://sloanlongway.org/).  

Contact Information: Jennifer Vannette, jvannette@castlemuseum.org; Geoff Woodcox and Jonathan Kirkwood, collections@sloanlongway.org 

Native American History

Native American Programs 1974-1976

Materials from Bradley H. Patterson’s work on legislation and policies concerning Native Americans, and his work as a White House liaison between Federal officials and tribal organizations. The files portray the living conditions of Native Americans and legal, social, and economic problems of specific tribes and reservations. Patterson's efforts to channel complaints to appropriate federal officials, monitor legislation, and arrange meetings with national and regional Indian organizations are well documented. 

Resources: https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/guides/findingaid/pattersonfiles.asp

Contact Information: Email Richard Weld at Richard.Weld@NARA.gov.

Oral History

Using Oral History for your MHD Project

Most Michigan History Day projects will be enhanced by interviewing an expert in the field or someone who experienced the event. Learn to ask questions and interact with community members.
Resources: Senior citizens, librarians, archivist, museum workers, and even parents may know some interesting details about your topic. Visit michiganoha.org/ to learn more.

Women's History

Women in Air & Space - Lois Phillips' Story

The Air Zoo has books and resources galore on the turning points related to women and aerospace advancement. One story is of Michigan's Lois Phillips who served as one of the first woman Marines to train male cadets in Link Trainers during World War II. Her daughter brought us her collection with snapshots of Lois' friends in the service, personal keepsakes, postcards and letters home to her parents. It connects with turning points as her job was not unlike Rosie the Riveter - by working her job, Lois helped free men to train for combat while driving a transition as women entered the armed services.

Resources: Air Zoo in Portage, https://www.airzoo.org/

Contact Information: April Bryan (abryan@airzoo.org) and Ben Page (bpage@airzoo.org)


Women’s Rights & the Ford White House

The Ford presidential administration oversaw many issues pertaining to women's rights and lives during the 1970s. Betty Ford's very public fight with breast cancer was a shift in how women's health was discussed. Women's rights and the ERA were also a major focus during Ford's tenure.

Resources: There are materials in the library’s online collection https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/collections-digital.aspx, but students are also welcome to visit the Library in Ann Arbor, and see the records for themselves.

Contact Information: Email Richard Weld at Richard.Weld@NARA.gov.


Women’s History Resource Guide – Archives of the Midland County Historical Society

Various collections document the history, activities, and impact of the women of Midland County through records of organizations, clubs, and personal papers. Some of the collections include:

  • Church Women United Records
  • League of Women Voters - Midland Area Records
  • UNICEF Club of Midland Records
  • Midland Federation of Women's Clubs Records

Use the MCHS Archives Women's History Resource Guide for a complete list.

Black History

Tuskegee Airmen & Black Pilots

The Air Zoo has a small Tuskegee Airmen collection to support a great History Day project. They also have a collection related to Clare Chandler, an Allegan man who became one of the first Black pilots to participate in World War II.

Resources: Air Zoo in Portage, https://www.airzoo.org/

Contact Information: April Bryan (abryan@airzoo.org) and Ben Page (bpage@airzoo.org)


Sojourner Truth Housing Project

In 1941, to elevate the housing shortage in Detroit during World War II, the Detroit Housing Commission proposed 200 units to be built to house Black and white Detroiters. However, violence erupted in 1942 when Black families tried to move into the project. This set the scene for issues of racial division in Detroit for decades to come.

Resources: Walter P. Reuther Library, especially the following collections: Charles Hill Papers; Elvin Davenport, Charles Kellogg Papers; Edward Littlejohn Papers; multiple oral histories

Contact Information: Dan Golodner, Archivist at ad6292@wayne.edu

Environmental History

Michigan Environmental History

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center studies many examples of Environmental History that represent important turning points:

  • Humbug Marsh is one of the last undeveloped shorelines of the Detroit River. Its preservation resulted in the establishment the first (and only) international wildlife refuge.
  • The development of TFM (a common piscicide) and how it helped control the sea lamprey population
  • Dredging the Detroit River to create shipping channels and how it impacted fish spawning (especially for sturgeon)
  • Mining waste in the UP and how it's impacting local communities today

Resources: USGS Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor, https://www.usgs.gov/centers/great-lakes-science-center

Contact Information: Tara Bell, tbell@usgs.gov


Thank you to the following contributors!
April Bryan and Ben Page, Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum
Dan Golodner, Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University
Geoff Woodcox and Jonathan Kirkwood, Sloan Museum of Discovery
Jennifer Vannette, The Castle Museum of Saginaw County History
Brian Jaeschke, Mackinac State Historic Parks
Tara Bell, USGS Great Lakes Science Center
Richard Weld, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum
Jan Bernath, Chelsea Area Historical Society
Jim Cameron, Michigan Oral History Association
Sarah Eck, Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum