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National History Day competition set for students from across the region

Middle and high school students will come together Saturday, March 7, for an annual National History Day competition at Western Carolina University.

The event, hosted by the WCU History Department, takes place from noon until 5 p.m. Organized by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Western Office, the competition is based on projects that students create, such as exhibits, performances, documentaries and websites, based on a central theme.

Jessie Swigger

This year’s theme is “Breaking Barriers in History.” Students from throughout Western North Carolina will examine and reflect on individuals and groups who made significant societal changes, which could include civil rights reforms and the suffrage movement for women to have the right to vote. WCU history faculty and undergraduate and graduate students all will participate in the planning, organizing and judging of the event.

This year’s event will mark the fifth and final time, for the foreseeable future, that WCU is the host campus for the competition. The University of North Carolina at Asheville will undertake the role in 2021.

“The History Department is thrilled to host this important event in partnership with the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources,” said Jessie Swigger, director of WCU’s Public History Program. “It’s great to see young people connect with the past and create projects that allow them to develop a wide range of skills that will benefit them now and in the future.”

A student's display at the 2019 National History Day competition.

Regional winners will go on to compete in Raleigh for statewide honors and possibly advance to a national competition. The program is designed to promote an interest in history among students and to assist teachers in teaching history more effectively. The program helps students develop skills in historical research, analysis, critical thinking, organization and presentation, as well as improve reading and writing skills. After evaluations and judging at district and state events, top-ranking students are then selected to participate in a national event in June at College Park, Maryland.

“Our collaboration with Western Carolina University on this program has been nothing short of a wonderful experience," said Jeff Futch, regional supervisor for the western office of the North Carolina Department Natural and Cultural Resources. "All the staff and faculty have been so accommodating and we’ve received nothing but positive commits from teachers and students who participated. I want to thank Dr. Jessie Swigger and Dr. Mary Ella Engel for all they’ve done these past five years to support the National History Day program in Western North Carolina.”

National History Day began in 1974 as an academic program to encourage deeper engagement in the study of history. For more information on National History Day events at WCU, contact Swigger at

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