David McCullough Essay Prizes

David McCullough in front of a student-painted American flag at Trinity School..

David McCullough at Trinity School in Manhattan, October 15, 2019

The Gilder Lehrman Institute is now accepting submissions for the 2024 David McCullough Essay Prizes. The contest has been recently overhauled, and will recognize fourteen outstanding high school student research and interpretive essays with cash prizes of up to $5,000. This contest is named in memory of David McCullough (1933–2022)—a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and Gilder Lehrman Life Trustee—and honors his career telling America’s stories and examining its histories. Learn more about his life and legacy here.

High school students attending schools in our Affiliate School Program are eligible and encouraged to participate. (Email education@gilderlehrman.org if you are not sure whether your school is an Affiliate School.) They are invited to submit an original essay, written independently or for a 2023–2024 class, that has been revised, expanded, and adapted to conform with the new McCullough Prize specifications. The two essay categories are as follows:

Research Essay: Students are invited to submit a research essay incorporating primary and secondary sources on a topic in American history from 1491 to 2001.

Interpretive Essay: Students are invited to submit an interpretive essay focusing on close reading and analysis of one primary source from American history, 1491 to 2001, in the Gilder Lehrman Collection of more than 85,000 historical documents.

More requirements for both essay categories can be found in these updated David McCullough Essay Prizes 2024 Rubrics.

All participants will receive a certificate of participation suitable for framing. Prize winners in each of our two categories—research essays and a new interpretive essay category—will receive cash awards as follows:

  • 1st Prize: $5,000 (plus a $500 prize awarded to the school)
  • 2nd Prize: $1,500 (plus a $500 prize awarded to the school)
  • Five 3rd Prizes: $500 each

To be considered for the David McCullough Essay Prizes, students, or their teachers or parents, can submit the student entry by 8:00 p.m. ET on Friday, June 28, 2024. A panel of Gilder Lehrman master teachers will choose the pool of finalists, from which a jury of eminent historians will choose the winners. Essays will be evaluated for their historical rigor, the clarity and correctness of their style, their use of evidence, and their qualities of empathy and imagination. Winners will be notified and announced no later than Friday, September 13, 2024.

General Requirements

Font and Page Style: Papers should be submitted in 12-point, Times New Roman font with one-inch margins at the top, bottom, and sides. Essays should be free of teacher commentary or other notes.

Organization: Top essays have an introduction, body, and conclusion and a clearly stated, well-developed thesis statement with supportive historical evidence.

Essay Topics: Essays can be on any topic related to American history from 1491 to 2001. Essays in the interpretative category must feature a primary source (letter, broadside, art, political cartoon, speech, etc.) from the Gilder Lehrman Collection.

Virtual Research Night

To help students, teachers, and parents prepare for the David McCullough Essay Prizes, the Institute is hosting a Virtual Research Night led by Professor Kenya Davis-Hayes (Professor of History, California Baptist University and a Scholar Judge for the prizes) to support student research at the high school level. The program will also feature members of the Gilder Lehrman Institute staff to highlight primary and secondary sources and strategies for high-quality research and writing. Register here for the Virtual Research Night on Thursday, February 29, 7 p.m. ET.

Dawe, Philip (ca. 1750-1785) The Bostonian's Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring & Feathering

Philip Dawe, The Bostonian's Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring & Feathering, London, 1774. (The Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC04961.01)

Submissions for this year’s contest are now open.

Past Winners

2023 Contest Winners

Read the eleven prize winners, selected from more than one hundred and fifty students’ entries.

2022 Contest Winners

Read the eleven prize winners, selected from more than seventy rising 11th and 12th grade students' entries.

2021 Winners

Read the twelve prize winners, selected from more than seventy rising 11th and 12th grade students' entries.

2020 Contest Winners

Read the twelve prize winners, selected from more than 200 rising 11th and 12th grade students' entries.

 

Follow in the steps of these winners and submit your entry today!