The 2024 National History Day (NHD) theme is Turning Points in History. The White House Historical Association offers a variety of resources to assist students working on NHD projects.
Trying to decide on a topic? Check out a few White House history topic ideas!
- Building and Burning of the White House: After Congress passed legislation establishing Washington, D.C. as the new capital city in 1790, city planners designated space to build the “President’s House.” In 1792, construction began and for the next eight years enslaved laborers, white wage workers, and craftsmen built the White House. Shortly after its completion, the British set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. Despite efforts to move the Federal City elsewhere, President James Madison quickly moved forward with plans to rebuild the White House on the same site and according to its original design. The building, burning, and restoration of the White House are major turning points that together solidify the building’s status as a symbol of American democracy and national unity.
- Modern Restorations of the White House: The White House has undergone several major restorations since it’s rebuild following the War of 1812. In the 1800s, the second floor of the White House served as both the office for the president and the living space for the first family. The 1902 Theodore Roosevelt Renovation resulted in a major expansion of the White House and the construction of what came to be known as the East Wing and West Wing. In 1945, shortly after President Harry Truman moved into the White House, engineers confirmed that the White House’s structural integrity was compromised. During the Truman Renovation, the White House underwent complete reconstruction within its original walls. The Roosevelt and Truman Renovations were major turning points in the history of the White House that changed the way the building functions as a home and office for the president and first family.
- Activism and Advocacy at the White House:
The White House and Lafayette Park, the public park located north of the White House, are both a stage and audience for Americans to advocate for various causes including women’s suffrage, civil rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. Protests and demonstrations have often contributed to major turning points in government action and legislation—the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality.
- First Ladies: Through the leadership of many women, the role of first lady has evolved into the influential position it is today. Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the role of president’s spouse into the modern first lady. She held women only press conferences, promoted her husband’s New Deal policies, and expressed her political opinions about civil rights, social inequalities, and education reform in her daily newspaper column, “My Day.” Her tenure in the position was a turning point that broadened the role of first lady and made space for all who followed to make the role their own. For example, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy devoted her time to making the White House a museum of American history and decorative arts. First Lady Rosalynn Carter established the modern Office of the First Lady. First Lady Barbara Bush championed literacy programs and worked to alleviate homelessness and AIDS. First Lady Michelle Obama lead initiatives for healthy eating in schools, educational opportunities for girls, and youth physical fitness.
- Space Exploration and the White House: During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union turned their focus to asserting global dominance through space exploration. Across several administrations, the White House played a significant role in furthering the mission to land humans on the moon. From President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 to Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s l969 moon landing, a decade of presidential leadership guided the United States’ path to the stars. The space race—and its many milestones—was a major turning point in scientific and technological advancement that enhanced the world’s understanding of the universe.
There are several NHD topics to research with connections to White House history. Use our online resources to help choose and further research your topic!
- LibGuides: Curated sets of primary and secondary sources.
- Classroom Resource Packets: Ready-to-use materials covering more than 30 topics.
- Designing the White House: 1792-1830
- Changes to the White House: 1830-1952
- Inaugurations and the White House
- Presidents and the Press
- Protest at the White House
- Roles of the First Lady
- Technology and the White House
- War and the White House
- Space Exploration and the White House
- Resource Videos: Short and compelling visual narratives of White House history.
- Collections: Topic-based compilations of images, articles, and more.
- Digital Library: The White House Historical Association’s online archive featuring thousands of primary source images spanning many presidential administrations. Create a free account and explore!
White House History Prizes
The White House Historical Association is proud to sponsor prizes at the National Contest as well as the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia affiliate contests.
The White House History prize is given to an outstanding project, in both the junior and senior divisions, that documents and analyzes White House history—through the lens of individual presidents, first ladies, residence staff, White House art and architecture, or important events that took place in the White House. We encourage students to consider lesser-known and even untold stories in White House history!
The winners can be in any category and come from either a group or individual project.
Explore a few of the winning projects from the 2023 theme “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas”:
- Junior Individual Exhibit: “Katherine Johnson, The Unsung Hero in the Race to the Final Frontier” by Grace from Carroll County, MD
- View an image of Grace’s exhibit here (image courtesy of Portia Wiggins).
- Senior Individual Documentary: “The Interstate Highway System: From Wagon Trails to Superhighways” by Caroline from Greene Co, VA
- Senior Individual Exhibit: “Forced Cultural Assimilation: A New Frontier” by Makayla from Bedford, VA
- Junior Individual Performance: “The Atomic Age” by Collin from Missouri
- Senior Group Exhibit: “Eleanor Roosevelt as First Lady: More than a Hostess” by Emma and Savannah from Florida
- View an image of Emma and Savannah’s exhibit here.
2023 Paper Showcase
During the 2023 National Contest, the White House Historical Association hosted a showcase of student papers on topics related to the presidency and/or the White House.