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When thinking about what is a barrier, the first thought that might come to mind is a wall or a fence. However, barriers can be much more than physical structures, whether man-made or natural.. They can be  ideological, theoretical, or even dispositional. Political, legal or legislative, social or societal. Barriers can have positive or negative consequences, or they can even serve as markers for historic milestones.

We've compiled a list of examples from our resources to help you brainstorm ideas for your National History Day project. Expand your thinking regarding all the different types of barriers, and good luck with your project!


Students can find plenty of project ideas among our 1,500+ digital resources of historical front pages, artifacts, original newsreels and photographs. These primary sources have explanatory text and are searchable by topic, century, person and more.

(To access many of these resources that are copyright protected, you must have a NewseumED account; registration is free. We do not collect data on students, nor do we spam, sell or share the email addresses.)


A sampling of NewseumED content related to 2020's theme:

Social & Societal

Political & Governmental

Discovery & Exploration


One of the largest physical barriers constructed, the Berlin Wall was the most prominent symbol that separated the West from the East during the Cold War. The wall did more than just prevent the movement of people between the two sides as it also prevented the exchange of cultures, ideas, and innovations.

Sam Kittner/Newseum

Free Expression (First Amendment issues):

Physical & Natural



  • “Making a Change" illustrates how the civil rights movement embraced the freedoms provided under the First Amendment to break through the barriers of inequality and discrimination in society. It contains an interactive timeline on key events and people. Watch a newsreel of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the crowning accomplishments of the movement. 
  • “Women, Their Rights and Nothing Less" reveals how women overcame societal barriers and stereotypes to earn the right to vote in the United States. An interactive timeline details the various strategies women employed to break down the barriers that kept them out of the  voting booth. 
  • "Free Speech Essentials" pairs historical and contemporary case studies to show how the barriers to free expression have enlarged or restricted our freedoms over time. Explore the collection to see how the removal of certain barriers to the freedoms of the First Amendment have been both beneficial and harmful to society.

Students are free to use images of any sources from the Newseum Collection in their National History Day projects as long as they visibly credit “Newseum Collection." If you have any questions, please email


Find inspiration for your NHD project during a visit to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Explore some of history’s greatest examples of “Breaking Barriers" through artifacts, historical newspapers and videos.

  • Berlin Wall Gallery: Stand in the shadow of eight 12-foot-high concrete sections of the original wall, and visualize the immensity of the physical barrier that divided the capital of Germany and its people for nearly 30 years.
  • "Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement": Dive into the exhibit that documents the unrest in 1969 after police harassed patrons at an LGBTQ bar in New York. The rebellion ushered in a new era of activism for the LGBTQ community as they confronted  discrimination and prejudice. 
  • “Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement": Explore the generation of student leaders who exercised their First Amendment rights to help remove the barriers to equality for minorities that had persisted for centuries.
  • Cox Enterprises First Amendment Gallery: Investigate how the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the freedoms of the First Amendment to expand the barriers to expression. See what modern issues of expression are currently being scrutinized by our courts and society.

EDClasses & Training

  • From Facts to Firewalls: Leading Free Speech Debates

    Get the First Amendment background and media literacy techniques to help students understand where and how they can exercise freedom of expression in a world of social media and social protests.

  • Is It Fair? Evaluate Your Media

    Are accusations of bias clogging your news feed? Are your students quick to point out that something's unfair — but not as ready to explain why? Tune up your “fairness meter” to assess how objective or biased content really is.

  • The Civil War: From the Front Lines to the Front Pages

    Students see how technology affected news coverage and public perception of the Civil War, then create their own front pages with breaking news, maps and telegrams.

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