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15 History Competitions for High School Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

AP United States History

15 History Competitions for High School Students

History competitions for high school students offer a unique opportunity to explore the depths of our past and understand historical events. These competitions range from essay contests and oration challenges to quiz bowls and team debates, each designed to challenge students’ knowledge, analytical skills, and creative thinking.

Participating in these contests enhances students’ academic profiles and fosters a deep appreciation for history as a discipline.  It provides a platform for young historians to showcase their talents, engage with like-minded peers, and gain recognition for their hard work and insights.

1. Joseph S. Rumbaugh Historical Oration Contest

  • Eligibility: Students in grades 9-12th.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified, but contact local SAR chapters for details.
  • Important Dates: Application deadline varies by state and SAR chapter.
  • Prize: Cash prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners.

The Joseph S. Rumbaugh Historical Oration Contest stands out among history competitions for high school students, offering a unique platform for young historians to dive deep into the Revolutionary War era and its enduring impact on contemporary America.

Qualifying student council members must practice public speaking

Organized by The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), this contest challenges participants to craft and deliver an original oration, drawing connections between historical events, personalities, or documents and the principles guiding the United States today.

Unlike typical written tests or quizzes, this competition emphasizes the importance of public speaking, requiring contestants to deliver their speeches from memory without notes or props. This format tests students’ historical knowledge and analytical skills, honing their presentation and rhetorical abilities and making it a comprehensive educational experience.

The journey to the national level involves several stages, starting from local rounds and advancing through state competitions, offering multiple levels of engagement and recognition. Winners at the national level receive scholarships and prizes, affirming their exceptional abilities to articulate history lessons with clarity and conviction.

2. George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest

  • Eligibility: Students in grades 9-12th.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified, but contact local SAR chapters for details.
  • Important Dates: Application deadline varies by state and SAR chapter.
  • Prize: Varying cash prizes; first place may be published in the SAR magazine.

The George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest is a distinguished event among history competitions for high school students, fostering an appreciation for American History and the foundational principles of the Republic.

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Hosted by The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), this contest invites high school students to delve into topics related to the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, or the U.S. Constitution by crafting an original essay.

With a focus on historical accuracy, clarity of thought, organization, grammar, and documentation, the competition challenges participants to express complex ideas and arguments coherently and persuasively.

This essay contest encourages students to engage in deep research and critical thinking and offers a platform to contribute to the ongoing discourse on America’s history and its contemporary relevance.

3. National History Day National Contest

  • Eligibility: Winners of local and affiliate contests.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified.
  • Important Dates: June 9–13, 2024.
  • Prize: Awards the top three entries in each contest category; special prizes are also available.

The National History Day National Contest is a pinnacle event for high school students in history competitions, engaging them in deeply exploring historical topics through various presentation formats.

Diverse group of young people chatting in college library

This annual event culminates in a year-long academic program encouraging students to research and analyze historical events or figures and present their findings through papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries, or websites.

Unlike traditional history quizzes or tests, this contest allows students to demonstrate their understanding and interpretation of history creatively and expressively, fostering a deeper connection to the past.

Participating in the National History Day National Contest enhances students’ research and critical thinking skills and improves their writing and public speaking abilities. The contest’s structure, which includes local, state, and national levels, provides numerous opportunities for recognition and awards, with the national-level event bringing together finalists from across the country to showcase historical scholarship and creativity.

4. International History Olympiad

  • Eligibility: Best primary and secondary school history students worldwide.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified; check the official website for updates.
  • Important Dates: July 2025 (next Olympiad).
  • Prize: Not specified, but includes competitions, field trips, and social activities.

The International History Olympiad stands as a global summit within the landscape of history competitions for high school students, offering a unique blend of academic challenge and cultural exchange.

A portrait of an Asian college student in library

This biennial event gathers the brightest young historians worldwide to compete in diverse contests that test their knowledge across numerous historical themes and periods. Participants engage in a rich program that includes written exams, buzzer quizzes, and even creative competitions like historical debates, art, and essay writing, providing a comprehensive platform for students to showcase their mastery of history.

The Olympiad’s international setting amplifies the competitive spirit and fosters a global community among participants, encouraging cultural exchanges and friendships that transcend geographical boundaries.

This event is more than just a competition; it’s an educational journey that encourages deep historical inquiry and understanding, offering students a chance to immerse themselves in studying history beyond the classroom.

5. Great History Challenge

  • Eligibility: Middle school students (though the request was for high school, this might interest some)​​.
  • Registration Fee: $499 for the entire school.
  • Important Dates: Not specified; register your school via their website.
  • Prize: Top students invited to compete at regional and national events.

The Great History Challenge emerges as a dynamic and engaging event within the sphere of history competitions for high school students, designed to spark a passion for historical inquiry and knowledge.

A woman taking an exam

This competition uniquely blends the rigor of academic research with the thrill of competition, encouraging students to explore and understand the vast complexities of history. Unlike traditional history contests focusing solely on individual achievements, the Great History Challenge promotes individual and collaborative learning experiences, making history accessible and exciting for students of varying skill levels and interests.

By participating, students are challenged to deepen their understanding of historical events and figures and are motivated to develop critical thinking and analytical skills. This competition is an excellent platform for students to showcase their historical knowledge, engage in intellectual discourse with peers, and receive recognition for their academic efforts.

The Great History Challenge represents a valuable opportunity for high school students to immerse themselves in history, encouraging a lifelong appreciation for the past and its influence on the present.

6. David McCullough Essay Prizes

  • Eligibility: High school students attending schools in the Affiliate School Program.
  • Registration Fee: Not mentioned.
  • Important Dates: For the 2024 contest,  specific dates were not provided.
  • Prize: Cash prizes of up to $5,000.

The David McCullough Essay Prizes are a prestigious recognition within the sphere of history competitions for high school students, designed to honor the legacy of David McCullough, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian known for his compelling narrative history works.

Female student writing near a window.

This contest, hosted by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, challenges high school students to engage deeply with American history through rigorous research and essay writing. Students are encouraged to explore various topics from the early colonial period to the end of the 20th century, allowing for a diverse exploration of the American past.

The competition is divided into two categories: the Research Essay, which requires students to delve into a historical topic using primary and secondary sources, and the Interpretive Essay, which focuses on analyzing a single primary source.

This structure provides a comprehensive platform for students to showcase their analytical skills, historical knowledge, and writing proficiency. Winners of the David McCullough Essay Prizes receive significant cash awards, and the competition serves as an excellent opportunity for participants to gain recognition for their academic achievements, refine their writing and research skills, and contribute to the ongoing dialogue about America’s historical narrative.

7. World Historian Student Essay Competition

  • Eligibility: K–12 students, focusing on high school eligibility.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified.
  • Important Dates: Entries must be emailed or postmarked by May 1 annually.
  • Prize: Not specified; winning papers announced during the summer.

The World Historian Student Essay Competition is an esteemed event in history competitions for high school students, inviting young scholars to reflect on the significance of history from a global perspective.

Writing in a paper on a table using a pen.

Hosted by the World History Association, this competition encourages students to articulate their connection to world history. It prompts them to explore how historical understanding has influenced their views and knowledge of the world.

Participants must submit essays demonstrating their grasp of historical facts and events and express how these elements have shaped their comprehension of humanity’s interconnectedness across time and space.

With an emphasis on originality, analytical depth, and the ability to convey a personal engagement with world history, the competition provides a platform for students to express their unique insights and perspectives.

8. International Academic Competitions

  • Eligibility: Elementary, middle, and high school students across the USA.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified; check competition details.
  • Important Dates: Varies by specific competition.
  • Prize: Not specified.

The International Academic Competitions (IAC) offer many history competitions for high school students designed to challenge and enrich their understanding of global and national history.

These competitions encompass various formats, including the renowned International History Bee and Bowl, where students can participate both individually and in teams to answer challenging questions spanning all periods and places in history.

IAC’s events are not limited to quizzes alone; they also include essay contests, such as the National History Bee, which allow students to explore historical topics in depth. Through these diverse competitions, IAC aims to foster a love for history, enhance critical thinking skills, and promote a deeper understanding of the events and people that have shaped our world.

Writing in a table beside a laptop.

Participants in IAC’s history competitions gain the opportunity to compete at local, national, and even international levels, providing them with a global platform to showcase their knowledge and skills. This exposure encourages academic excellence and cultivates a sense of global citizenship among high school students, allowing them to appreciate the interconnectedness of human experiences across time and geography​​.

9. International History Bee and Bowl

  • Eligibility: Individual students (Bee) and teams (Bowl).
  • Registration Fee: Not specified; varies by region and format.
  • Important Dates: Varies by region; annual Canadian Championships in spring.
  • Prize: Qualification for Canadian Championships and international events.

The International History Bee and Bowl (IHBB) are standout fixtures in history competitions for high school students, offering vibrant arenas for those passionate about the past to display their knowledge and skills.

View of a student writing in a table.

The IHBB uniquely divides its contests into two main formats: the Bee for individual competitors and the Bowl for teams. This structure allows for a comprehensive assessment of historical knowledge, covering various topics from ancient civilizations to recent global events.

Competitors engage in buzzer-based quiz rounds that test their reflexes, depth of knowledge, and ability to recall information under pressure. These competitions enhance participants’ understanding and appreciation of history and foster teamwork, quick thinking, and strategic planning.

The IHBB holds tournaments across the globe, culminating in an international championship that draws the best and brightest history scholars from various countries. This global gathering underscores the universal importance of history. It provides a forum for students to connect with peers who share their interests, all while competing in a friendly but competitive environment.

10. The Great Debate

  • Eligibility: Students aged 15 and over.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified.
  • Important Dates: Not provided; check the Historical Association’s website.
  • Prize: Not specified.

The Great Debate stands out among history competitions for high school students as a dynamic platform for articulating and defending historical perspectives and interpretations. This competition challenges students to delve deeply into historical topics, encouraging them to construct and present compelling arguments on complex historical issues.

debate icon

Participants in The Great Debate are tasked with researching their chosen subject, formulating a thesis, and presenting their findings and ideas in a structured and persuasive manner. This format tests students’ knowledge of history and their critical thinking, public speaking, and debate skills.

It fosters a deeper understanding of historical events and figures, promoting an appreciation for the nuances and complexities of history. Furthermore, The Great Debate offers students a unique opportunity to engage in intellectual discourse, sharpening their ability to argue effectively and listen critically.

Through this competition, high school students gain invaluable experience beyond the classroom, preparing them for future academic and professional endeavors where effective communication and analytical skills are paramount.

11. Young Quills for Historical Fiction

  • Eligibility: Not explicitly stated; involves reading and reviewing books.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified.
  • Important Dates: Not provided; check the Historical Association’s website.
  • Prize: Involvement in the selection process for the Young Quills Award.

The Young Quills for Historical Fiction is an innovative competition that stands out in high school students’ history competitions. Unlike traditional contests focusing on historical facts and analyses, the Young Quills challenges students to immerse themselves in the past through storytelling.

Writer typing with retro writing machine. View from above.

This competition is designed to foster a deep appreciation for historical events and figures by encouraging the creation and consumption of historical fiction. Participants and reviewers engage with novels that weave accurate historical details with compelling narratives, offering a unique lens to understand and connect with history.

By evaluating these works, students hone their critical thinking and analytical skills and develop empathy and a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of human experiences across different epochs.

The Young Quills is a creative conduit for students to explore historical narratives, promoting literary and historical literacy. Through this competition, high school students are not just passive recipients of historical knowledge but active participants in its reinterpretation and dissemination, fostering lifelong engagement with history.

12. Write Your Own Historical Fiction

  • Eligibility: Pupils aged 9 and up, focusing on high school age.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified.
  • Important Dates: Not provided; check the Historical Association’s website.
  • Prize: Not specified.

The “Write Your Own Historical Fiction” competition is an engaging and creative outlet among history competitions for high school students, designed to ignite their imagination and deepen their understanding of the past.

A student searching in laptop

This contest encourages students to research historical periods and figures and weave these elements into compelling narrative forms. It challenges participants to apply their knowledge of history in crafting stories that, while fictional, are rooted in accurate historical contexts and reflect the complexities of the times they depict.

This unique blend of historical scholarship and creative writing enables students to explore historical events and cultures nuanced and personally, fostering a deeper appreciation for the forces that have shaped human history.

By participating in the “Write Your Own Historical Fiction” contest, high school students contribute to the field of historical literature and enhance their critical thinking, research, and storytelling skills, making it a standout experience in their academic journey.

13. Young Historian Awards

  • Eligibility: Not specified, but implies high school students.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified.
  • Important Dates: Not provided; check the Historical Association’s website.
  • Prize: Not specified

The Young Historian Awards carve a unique niche within history competitions for high school students, spotlighting young history enthusiasts’ analytical and research skills. This prestigious award aims to recognize and celebrate students’ exceptional work demonstrating a profound understanding and innovative exploration of historical topics.

Female student writing on a bench.

Entrants are encouraged to delve into historical investigations, presenting their findings through essays, research papers, or creative projects that showcase their ability to interrogate sources, construct coherent narratives, and draw insightful conclusions about the past.

This competition offers students a platform for recognition for their academic diligence and creativity and encourages a deeper engagement with history as a discipline. By participating in the Young Historian Awards, students can contribute to historical discourse, enhancing their learning while inspiring a broader appreciation for history’s role in understanding the present and influencing the future.

The awards highlight the importance of historical study in developing critical thinking, research proficiency, and a nuanced understanding of the complexities of human experiences through time.

14. The National History Bowl

  • Eligibility: Teams of up to six high school students.
  • Registration Fee: Not specified; visit the National History Bowl website for details.
  • Important Dates: Registration dates are not specified; competitions occur at local, state, and national levels throughout the academic year.
  • Prize: Prizes vary by rank and competition, including recognition at various levels of the competition.

The National History Bowl emerges as a prominent event within history competitions for high school students, offering a team-based quiz competition that spans a wide range of historical topics and eras.

three female students talking joyously inside a library

This competition uniquely fosters teamwork, as students collaborate to answer questions on diverse subjects, from ancient civilizations to modern events and everything in between. The dynamic and fast-paced nature of the bowl, with its buzzer system, adds an element of excitement and urgency to the intellectual challenge, engaging students in a competitive yet educational atmosphere.

The National History Bowl encourages not just memorization of facts but also a deep understanding of historical contexts and significance, promoting critical thinking and quick recall abilities. Participating teams can advance through regional and state levels to the national finals, where they compete against the best of their peers nationwide.

This progression enhances the competitive experience and allows for broader interaction among students with shared interests, creating a community of young historians. Through its emphasis on collaborative learning and its broad scope of inquiry, the National History Bowl stands as a testament to the value of studying history, providing high school students a platform to showcase their knowledge and passion for the past​​.

15. Emerson Prize

  • Eligibility: High school students who demonstrate exemplary study in history.
  • Registration Fee: Not explicitly mentioned; refer to the Concord Review for detailed application requirements.
  • Important Dates: Annually awarded, though specific dates for submission are not provided in the summary.
  • Prize: The Emerson Prize is awarded to high school students for outstanding essays in history, recognizing exceptional academic research and writing.

The Emerson Prize, awarded by the Concord Review, is a distinguished accolade within history competitions for high school students designed to recognize exceptional historical essays written by young scholars.

Writing an essay on a notebook.

This prize encourages scholarly engagement with historical subjects, promoting rigorous research, analytical depth, and academic writing of the highest caliber. Named to honor the legacy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a notable American philosopher, essayist, and poet, the prize seeks to inspire a similar spirit of intellectual curiosity and excellence in high school students.

Winners of the Emerson Prize are celebrated for their ability to delve into complex historical topics, provide insightful analyses, and demonstrate a command of historical scholarship through their writing. This competition highlights the importance of history as a field of study and underscores the value of effective communication and scholarly research among high school students.

By participating in the Emerson Prize, students gain the opportunity to contribute to the historical discourse and achieve recognition for their academic achievements, further fueling their passion for history and enhancing their skills in research and writing.

Conclusion

The array of history competitions for high school students underscores the vibrant landscape of academic challenges that await those passionate about the past. From the detailed research required for the David McCullough Essay Prizes to the fast-paced excitement of the National History Bowl, each competition offers a unique avenue for exploration and expression.

These contests celebrate students’ historical knowledge and ability to communicate effectively, argue persuasively, and think critically. Engaging in these competitions provides invaluable experiences beyond the classroom, preparing students for future academic endeavors and encouraging them to become lifelong learners and historians.

As students participate in these competitions, they contribute to a rich dialogue about our world’s history, ensuring that the stories of the past continue to inform and inspire future generations.

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