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The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.

JFK Addressing the Press During the Cuban Missile Crisis

Robert Knudsen, White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Project Starters

The 2021 NHD Theme is Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. Trying to decide on a topic? Check out a few White House history topic ideas:

  • Diplomacy and the White House: The President isn’t just Commander-in-Chief, but also the United States’ Chief Diplomat. President Grant held the first State Dinner in 1874; in the years since, the State Dinner has become a hallmark of peaceful relations between the United States and foreign leaders. Other presidents have acted as global peacemakers, opening vital communications channels and bringing nations and people closer in understanding.
  • Presidents and the Press: Though the methods and manners of news coverage have changed greatly over the last two centuries, the history of communication between the president and the press is a major part of the White House story. Journalists from around the United States and the world both amplify and scrutinize the actions and initiatives of the Executive Branch, giving the public the opportunity to investigate and understand what happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Roles of the First Lady: The role and influence of first ladies has evolved from being a supporting spouse of the president into a high-profile, organized office with staff as we see it today. Many first ladies became notable communicators in support of various causes, both at home and around the world.
  • Protest at the White House: Amendment I to the United States Constitution ensures, among other things, that the public has the right to peaceably assemble. For over a century, the White House has been a stage and audience for public protest. From suffragists, to civil rights advocates, to anti-war protestors and more, many activists used the White House to communicate their messages and bring greater awareness to many domestic and international issues.
  • Transportation and the White House: Horses, trains, automobiles, helicopters, and aircraft have been vital to the president and the Executive Branch since the inception of the office. The ability of the president and their staff to move quickly about the nation and the world and communicate in-person via crucial public appearances, speeches, negotiations, and meetings helps further domestic and international understanding in ways that many other avenues of communications cannot.

Resources

There are many more NHD topics to research with connection to White House history. Explore these within our online resources:

  • Classroom Resource Packets – covering 30 different topics including:
    • Presidents and the Press
    • Roles of the President
    • Space Exploration and the White House
    • Technology and the White House
    • Protest at the White House
    • Transportation and the White House
    • Diplomacy and the White House
    • White House China
    • Roles of the First Lady
    • War and the White House
  • Short Resource Videos – quick and compelling visual narratives of White House history.
  • The 1600 Sessions Podcast – contains interviews and stories from historians and former White House staff.
  • WHHA Digital Library - provides a wealth of primary source images from many different presidential administrations.

View a project from one of the 2018 White House History Prize winners — Tyler Kaus from Chadron Middle School in Nebraska. He created “Raze or Renovate” — a junior division, individual documentary about the President Harry S. Truman renovations to the White House.

Courtesy of Tyler Kaus

White House History Prize

The White House Historical Association also sponsors a prize at the National Contest.

The prize is given for an outstanding project that documents and analyzes White House history through such subjects as individual presidents, first ladies, residence staff, White House art and architecture, or important events that took place in the White House.

Two awards are given each year – one for each division (Junior and Senior). These winners can be in any category and come from either a group or individual project.

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