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Exhibit Category Ideas and Tips:

Exhibit Category Ideas and Tips National History Day in Wisconsin

What is an exhibit?:

What is an exhibit? According to the NHD Rulebook, an exhibit is: A visual representation of your research and interpretation of your topic’s significance in history. Similar to a small museum exhibit. What does that mean? You will use the exhibit to make an ARGUMENT about your topic. You will use your own words, images, captions, labels, objects, etc. to explain and support this argument for the viewer.

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Exhibits are most commonly done on a tri-fold board, like a science fair project, but this isn’t a requirement.

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Exhibits sometimes take on interesting shapes, connected to the topic.

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Exhibits can be creative and awe-inspiring, but the HISTORY and ANALYSIS behind them should be the most important part.

Why pick the exhibit category?:

Why pick the exhibit category? A good exhibit is more than just gluing things to a board. You must carefully select the images, text, captions and other illustrations to include on the exhibit. Don’t pick this category because you think it’s easy. Narrowing down your information to only 500-student composed words can be hard! Select the exhibit category because you’re creative, you like making things, and you have images, illustrations, and documents to support your argument.

But how do you go from….:

But how do you go from…. A pile of research and a bunch of ideas To an effective History Day exhibit?

Let’s take a closer look:

Let’s take a closer look Title Thesis Images, Illustrations and Documents Captions/Labels Smart Color Choices Good Font Selection Strong Organization Annotated Bibliography & Process Paper Text

Start with the research:

Start with the research Do good research. Use a variety of primary and secondary sources! Develop your thesis statement. What is the argument you are making? Outline your exhibit script. What sections do you need to support your argument? Your annotated bibliography is included with your exhibit!

Design Your Layout:

Design Your Layout Draft your exhibit on paper first.

How are you going to organize it?:

How are you going to organize it? Identify the sections you need. Each section should be directly connected to supporting your thesis. Organize those sections in a logical way. Thesis Back-ground Impact ?? ?? ??

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Sections help your viewer know where to look first and see the flow to your project. Your eye looks at the title first, since it’s the largest text on the exhibit. Right below the title is the thesis statement. It’s a smaller font size than the title, but still in slightly larger than other text.

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The rest of the exhibit is divided into sections that support the argument these students are making about Susan B. Anthony’s role in education.

Make your thesis stand out:

Make your thesis stand out It’s the most important “thing” on your exhibit. Your thesis must be clear on your exhibit itself. You don’t need to label it as “thesis.” Instead use the font size, placement, and design elements to help it stand out.

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In each exhibit, the thesis is clearly written on the exhibit itself. It’s one of the first things a viewers will look at. The students use color and design elements to draw your attention to the thesis.

Identify the supporting materials:

Identify the supporting materials What images, illustrations, documents, or other media can you incorporate? Each item should have a DIRECT connection to the argument you are making. Narrow it down! You will likely have found much more than you can put on your exhibit.

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A map shows you where this took place. Newspaper headlines provide additional information. Photographs help the viewer to see what happened. Quotes or passages from interviews provide evidence for the argument.

Write interpretive captions:

Write interpretive captions Brief citations tell the viewer where you found the image/illustration. “Photo from Wisconsin Historical Society” These do NOT count towards your word limit. Interpretive captions analyze the supporting material. They’re important to show why the image/illustration is there. What does it mean? These DO count towards your word limit.

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Instead of just including these three political cartoons on her exhibit, the student also included an interpretive caption. She uses it to explain how the cartoons connect to her topic and provide evidence for her thesis. “These three political cartoons illustrate the conflict between workers and their employers. If we look at how the inspector is portrayed, we see that the artist was sympathetic to the workers and believed that the lack of regulation contributed to the deaths.”

Choose your colors:

Choose your colors The right color choice sets the tone for your project. The wrong colors can be confusing or even offensive. Which colors would you use for an exhibit about the American Revolution? The Green Bay Packers? The women’s suffrage movement in the United States?

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This exhibit about biological warfare is in somber tones. The exhibit about Earth Day is in blues and greens.

Find Your Fonts:

Find Your Fonts Fonts can be creative, but they should still be easy to read. Save the fancy font for titles and section headers. Use a more common font - Ariel, Times New Roman - for the main text. Be sure to use a font size is large enough to read from about 2-3 feet away. That’s how far away your judges will stand from the exhibit.

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All these exhibits used fonts that reminded viewers of the topics. The fancy fonts are easy to read and used only in titles and headings. The main text is written in a plain font.

Remember the Hierarchy:

Remember the Hierarchy Varying the size of your font helps viewers to go from the big ideas to the supporting evidence. The Title Should Be the Biggest! Section Headers can be a little smaller. Text in the body of your exhibit should be smaller yet.

Interactive Elements:

Interactive Elements Use interactive elements to engage viewers with your exhibit. They don’t have to be complicated or use lots of technology. They must be DIRECTLY connected to your topic and RELEVANT in proving your argument. Don’t forget you can use the space in front of your exhibit, on the table.

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This exhibit lets you see and feel the differences in airplane construction materials. This exhibit includes a sample of the model home. You can look inside to see the layout!

Think About Your Title:

Think About Your Title Make it snazzy… but also make sure it describes your topic. “Susan B. Anthony: or… “Votes for Women: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Suffrage” “Agriculture in the 20 th Century” or “Adapt or Die: The Impact of Revolutionary Changes in Agriculture in the 20th Century” “Louis Pasteur” or “Pasteurization: The Concept that Changed the Way You Look at Milk “


Technology You CAN include media in your exhibit. The Rules: Media devices (DVD players, projectors, video monitors, computer) used in an exhibit must not run for more than a total of 3 minutes and are subject to the 500-word limit. Viewers and judges must be able to control media devices. Any media devices must fit within the size limits of the exhibit. Any media devices used should be integral to the exhibit – not a method to bypass the prohibition against live student involvement.


Technology Make sure technology is DIRECTLY connected to supporting your argument. NHD events often take place in public buildings. Be careful about including valuables. This might include clips of primary source video footage or audio from a participant discussing their experiences.

Be Creative!:

Be Creative!

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As long as your exhibit fits within the size requirements, you have almost limitless creativity about your design.

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Think beyond the tri-fold board.

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A good design gives you hints about the topic of the exhibit before you even read this. What do you think this exhibit might be about?

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But don’t forget to focus on the HISTORY in National History Day.

Keep Working!:

Keep Working! Just because your exhibit is “done,” doesn’t mean you are. Use the judges’ comments from previous competitions to improve your project. Be proud of your hard work!

Have Fun!:

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