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How to Create a Historical Exhibit

What is a Historical Exhibit?

Historical exhibition presents information about an event, person, place, or idea from the past by physically displaying documents, images, or objects.  We often see such exhibits at museums, but they are also presented at many other places such as archives, historic sites, park visitor centers, classrooms, and even airports and train stations. For your National History Day project, you will tell the story of your research through historic photographs, maps, drawings and other interesting objects.

How is an Exhibit Different from Other Categories?

The exhibit category is three dimensional and is displayed on a physical structure.  Exhibits use color, images, documents, objects, graphics, and design, as well as words, to tell your story.  Exhibits can be interactive experiences by asking viewers to play music, solve a puzzle, look at a video, or open a door or window to see more documents or photos.  

Getting Started

  • Brainstorm topics that are of interest to you and are related to this year's NHD theme.
  • Research the topic first. Do your secondary research first. Reading secondary resources will help you understand your subject more completely, point you to primary sources, and assist you in selecting the important themes you want to investigate and the key questions you want to ask.
  • Select items to put on the exhibit. You won't be able to use all the materials you find while doing your research.  As you think about what to put on the exhibit, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Does the item fit in with the NHD theme and the theme of your exhibit?
    -Does the item advance the story you are trying to tell?
    -Is a document you are thinking of displaying too long or too wordy?  Is it easy to read and understand? Will it take up too much space in your exhibit?
    -Is the item visually interesting?
    -What images best tell your story?
    -Do you want to include artifacts in your exhibit?
    -Will your exhibit contain audiovisual materials?
  • Prepare the script. Writing your titles, text, and labels is often referred to as writing the script. Like all good writing, your exhibit script needs to be grammatically correct, use good sentence structure, make wise word choices, and contain no spelling errors.  You should expect to write several drafts.  Exhibit labels are brief, so they need to be clear and concise.


Check out an example of an exhibit entry above

This entry was created by Sharlyn Nelson of Norco, CA. Sharlyn took first place in the Senior Individual Exhibit category at the 2009 Kenneth E. Behring National Contest.

Purchase your exhibit board at the NHD SHOP