• Home
  • History Day
  • Selected Topics

Selected Topics

Student protests at KU,
National Vietnam Moratorium Day,
October 15, 1969.

Call Number: RG 71/18.

The 2019 National History Day theme is “Triumph and Tragedy in History.” Below are some topics that are related to this theme and can be researched using materials at Spencer Research Library.

This list isn't comprehensive. There are many, many other topics and collections you can investigate at Spencer! You can get other ideas for topics by exploring other sections of Spencer's website, including collection overviews, online exhibitions, and digital collections.

If one of the below topics interests you, Spencer librarians can help with locating and interpreting specific primary sources.

The Protestant Reformation and the European Wars of Religion

Spencer's collections include a sizable number of materials related to the people and conflicts associated with the Protestant Reformation. While many of the library's items are not printed in English, the value of these holdings is in their connection to this chaotic time in history and how the Reformation shaped the future of Europe and Christianity. Items include published writings by Martin Luther as well as writings and sermons in defense of both Protestantism and Catholicism. Students interested in this topic may need to choose a specific event or person within this broad time period.

European Exploration, Settlement, and Colonization of the Americas

This topic is well-documented in the collections at Spencer Research Library through a number of historical maps and published texts from the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s. Many of these sources document Europeans' interactions with - and often violent conquest of - indigenous peoples. Some published texts include striking woodcut illustrations of the places and peoples being described. Many of these materials require knowledge of languages other than English or necessitate finding an English-language translation. Students interested in this topic may need to choose a specific event or person within this broad time period. For example, the library has numerous materials related to Hernán Cortés’ conquest of Mexico in the sixteenth century. These items include eye-witness accounts and modern facsimiles of codices created by native Mesoamericans. See the online exhibit "In the Shadow of Cortés: From Veracruz to Mexico City" for more information.

Women’s Suffrage

Women in the United States were granted the right to vote nationally in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This victory for women’s right came after decades of protests, demonstrations, and legislative attempts of varying degrees of success. Spencer's holdings include perspectives and campaign materials from both the national pro- and anti-suffrage movements as well as documents related to the history of suffrage in Kansas, specifically. Researchers will also find materials related to women’s suffrage on an international level.

William Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence, 1863

Spencer Research Library has a wealth of primary sources on this topic, particularly first-person accounts and recollections of survivors and raiders. Materials also document the immediate and more long-term aftermath of the event for individuals and the community of Lawrence more broadly. Spencer's holdings about the Raid include correspondence, diaries and journals, government publications and reports, books, maps, and newspapers. See the online exhibit "Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival" for more information. Additional primary sources at the library document the broader contexts in which the Raid took place, specifically the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, the debate about slavery, and the Civil War. Spencer's sources about Bleeding Kansas are overwhelmingly from the free-state (or anti-slavery) perspective.

American Settlers and Indigenous Peoples of the Great Plains

Sources on this topic at Spencer document the interactions between American settlers - including immigrants, government agencies, the military, and railroads - and Native Americans in Kansas and the region. Subtopics include the loss of tribal lands and well as changes to indigenous education, culture, language, and religion. Most sources date from the mid-1800s into the twentieth century. Represented tribes include the Delaware, Wyandot, and Pottawatomie. Also documented is the history of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. However, most sources about this topic at Spencer were written by settlers, from their perspective. Materials at Spencer about this topic include tribal records, government documents and reports, letters, journals, photographs, maps, books, and collections of independent and academic researchers. Students interested in this topic may need to choose a specific event or person within this broad time period.

Ireland's Easter Rising, 1916

Materials on this topic at Spencer Research Library document the events of the weeklong rebellion and its immediate aftermath as well as the political and cultural contexts in which the Rising occurred - specifically its place in the history of Irish independence. The library's holdings on this topic include literary works, political ephemera, manuscripts, periodicals, and photographs. See the online exhibit “Easter 1916: Rebellion and Memory in Ireland” for more information.

Spencer Research Library is home to one of the most significant and sizable collections of materials about Irish history, literature, culture, and politics held outside of Ireland. A range of materials within the collection documents various tragedies and triumphs throughout Irish history. The bulk of the collection dates from approximately 1700 to 1950; as a result, the period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland (late twentieth century) is not well represented. Learn more about these holdings via the collection description and Library Guide.

Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court Decision, 1954

Among Spencer's holdings about this topic are the papers of Charles Scott, who was a lead attorney in the local case representing the Kansas plaintiffs. The collection includes Scott's written correspondence with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund concerning the 1951Topeka school segregation challenge. Additionally, the Paul Wilson Collection includes research materials Wilson used to write about his experience as the attorney for the Kansas defendants, documented in his book The Time to Lose. The Brown Foundation Collection contains a 1953 letter to a non-tenured member of the African American faculty in Topeka’s public schools. The letter warns her that, if the Supreme Court decides in favor of the plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board court case, her teaching contract will not be renewed because whites will not accept African American teachers in a school whose student population is racially integrated. Additional materials at Spencer document the broader contexts of Brown v. Board, specifically the history of education in Lawrence and Kansas, schools established by African American communities in the state (especially Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas), and the civil rights movement. See the online exhibit "Education: The Mightiest Weapon" and the KU Libraries guide “African American Rights Activities and Movements” for more information.

Student Protests at the University of Kansas, 1970

The wave of student activism at KU in the 1960s and 1970s crested in a dramatic series of incidents in the spring and summer of 1970, specifically an arson attack on the Kansas Union and the shooting deaths of two KU students, Rick Dowdell and Nick Rice, at the hands of police officers. These troubling incidents are well-documented by primary sources in KU's University Archives, as are other events that took place during the same time period and the broader context of civil rights activism at KU and campus protests against the Vietnam War. Materials include publications like the Graduate Magazine, Jayhawker yearbook, and University Daily Kansan student newspaper; photographs; and records of chancellors and student organizations. Additional primary sources - for example government records and reports - about these events can be found elsewhere in Spencer's holdings. For more information, see the KU Libraries guide "African American Rights Activities and Movements: University Archives" and the Spencer blog entries “We’re all going to jail, to jail”: The University and Civil Rights in 1965” and “Smoke and Fire: Political and Civil Unrest at the University."

Personal Triumphs and Tragedies: Oral Histories

Through the recording of people’s memories, oral histories give voice to events and periods of the past. An oral history can be a great starting place for developing a History Day topic by investigating how an event (for example, moving Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II) affected an individual person. Spencer Research Library has a variety of oral history collections in its holdings, and many have accompanying transcripts. War experiences are documented through interviews with veterans in the World War II: The African American Experience oral histories. Hispanic and Latino immigrants living in Kansas City, Kansas, were interviewed as part of a 2003 oral history project called MYgration Stories. The University Archives in Spencer Research Library houses a collection of more than 500 interviews with retired KU faculty, staff, and spouses. The recorded narratives capture the challenges and successes faced by these individuals throughout their lives, at KU and beyond. See the online exhibit In Their Own Words: Selected Interviews from the Endacott Society Oral History Collection for a sampling.

Personal Triumphs and Tragedies: Wartime Experiences

How people participated in or reacted to wars could be developed into compelling History Day topics. War experiences are well-documented in the holdings of Spencer Research Library. The Kansas Collection has materials related to Camp Funston, Fort Riley, and Camp Concordia as well as correspondence and photographs of soldiers and others from Kansas who participated in wars, particularly the U. S. Civil War, World War I, and World War II. See, for example, the online exhibit To Make the World Safe for Democracy: Kansas and the Great War. University Archives has records of war memorials on campus as well as materials that document KU faculty, staff, student, and alumni involvement in and reaction to wars over time, including the U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. A search for personal narratives of war in Spencer's holdings yields wide-ranging results from various times and worldwide locations.


Caitlin Donnelly Klepper
Head of Public Services

1.5 million visits a year at 7 library locations
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection
—American Library Association
KU ScholarWorks offers access to more than 13,000 items created by KU faculty and students
An international leader in the open access movement
Users check out nearly 300,000 items every year
Users access more than 3.3 million articles online each year
More than 111,000 scores, books, sound recordings, and other volumes in Music & Dance Library
Anschutz Library serves as KU’s 24-hour study facility for students
More than 700 Vosper Society members support the mission of KU Libraries
KU Today