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National History Day: Digital Resources for “Breaking Barriers”

National History Day: Digital Resources for “Breaking Barriers”

By: Tess Porter, Digital Content Producer, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

Looking for resources to inspire and support students’ National History Day research? We’re here to help! Educators across the Smithsonian and other organizations, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment, have collaborated to gather primary and secondary sources to empower students’ success in researching this year’s theme, Breaking Barriers in History. Each collection of resources can help students brainstorm new topic ideas, consider new perspectives, and use primary sources in their research. Here are just a few:

Breaking Barriers: Examining the Life and Work of Isamu Noguchi focuses on the influential artist, landscape architect, and designer Isamu Noguchi. Through primary sources, students may explore how he broke barriers through his art and his political activism. 

Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields/Revolución en los Campos, tells the story of activist, leader, and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta and her involvement in the farm workers movement. Primary sources, including photographs, documents, artwork, and video interviews reveal her achievements breaking barriers.

NHD at NMAAHC Collection: Breaking Barriers in History aggregates primary and secondary sources connected to a diverse range of barrier breakers within the African American experience, from 1700s abolitionist and freemason Prince Hall, to openly gay blues performer Gladys Bentley, to hip hop group Public Enemy.

Breaking Barriers at the National Portrait Gallery features groundbreaking individuals who broke barriers in a variety of spheres: science, arts, labor, women’s rights, media, athletics, civil rights, politics, and education. Alongside portraits, this collection also includes questions to help students analyze and use these artworks as primary sources rather than simply illustrations.

Breaking Barriers: Reconstruction explores the efforts of individuals and groups to overcome racial, economic, and political barriers during the years immediately following the Civil War. Resources highlight influential people and organizations, the intentional and unintentional consequences of policies that resulted in the construction of new barriers for some, and competing perspectives over the best path toward reuniting the United States.

And that’s just the beginning! By searching for #NHD2020 in the Learning Lab, you’ll find more collections on a wide range of topics such as World War II’s Navajo Code Talkers, labor activist Emma Tenayuca, innovations such as the locomotive and the microscope, race and gender in the U.S. military, leaders and art of the United Farm Workers movement, breaking barriers with American art, the women’s suffrage movement, the second industrial revolution, African American changemakers, labor activist Larry Itliong, WWI aviator Ruth Law, and more.

Share your students’ and your own National History Day collections with the Learning Lab community! Write to us on Twitter: @SmithsonianLab using #NHD2020. If you publish a collection on your National History Day topic, be sure to enter #NHD and #NHD2020 in the description so others can easily find it while they search for National History Day resources.


Poster, Si Se Puede Boycott Lettuce and Grapes

Image: Poster, Si Se Puede Boycott Lettuce and Grapes (detail), by the Women’s Graphics Collective
Cesar Chavez continued to keep the sweatshop conditions of farm labor in the nation’s eye as he organized the United Farm Workers of America during the 1960s. This UFW poster urged consumers to show their support for the UFW by refusing to buy lettuce and grapes.
National Museum of American History