Students from middle and high schools throughout Western North Carolina will gather at Western Carolina University on Saturday, March 19, as the WCU History Department hosts a National History Day regional academic competition.

This year’s theme of “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History” is meant to help students push past a view of history as mere dates and facts, and develop a perspective and understanding of history and its relevance to today’s society. Regional winners will go on to compete in Raleigh for statewide honors and possibly advance to a national competition.

Started in 1974, National History Day is an academic program that introduces students to the study of history by having them conduct original research and create projects that range from papers and exhibits to performances, documentaries and websites. After evaluations and judging at district and state events, top-ranking students are then selected to participate in the national contest in College Park, Maryland, each June.

“National History Day is more than just a day, it is an experience,” said Jeff Futch, western district coordinator for the state Department of Cultural Resources and an event facilitator. “Students can decide to work alone or in a group, decide what they would like to create, then present and defend their projects in front of judges who ask them questions about their topics and projects.”

Several hundred students are expected from Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania, Swain and other western counties, as well as the Qualla Boundary, to take part in the noon to 5 p.m. event.

Participating students have to engage in various types of research, develop communication skills and use critical thinking, all of which help students become more creative, thoughtful and engaged citizens, said Honor Sachs, WCU assistant professor of history. “Events like this help prepare students for a broad range of future endeavors; it requires them to engage with every component part of the process, from historical inquiry and research to creation and public presentation,” she said.

For more information on National History Day events at WCU, contact Jessie Swigger, director of WCU’s Public History Program, at jswigger@email.wcu.edu or Sachs at hrsachs@email.wcu.edu.