Skip to Main Content
Ask A Librarian

National History Day Research Guide: WV General Topic Ideas

WV Topics

The following topics relate to West Virginia and should help you start your NHD research. They all have links to digitized primary source materials or to collections held by the West Virginia and Regional History Center. The topics and resources were complied by Madison McCormick, Graduate Assistant for the Public History Department at WVU.

Agricultural Frontier

As supply lines were not clearly established in many parts of the frontier, many settlers had to farm for themselves and for their neighbors. Included in this was early milling as well.

Battle of Phillipi

The Battle of Phillipi, well often now considered only a skirmish, was the first organized land action of the Civil War.   

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was an educator and African American leader who spent part of his youth in West Virginia.

Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, was an early leading scholar on African American history. Woodson, who is the only person whose parents were enslaved in the United States to earn a history PhD, taught for years at what is now West Virginia State University.

Frontier Forts

Forts were a very important structure on the frontier, providing shelter and protection for European settlers. Many early prominent forts in western Virginia included Fort Randolph, Prickett’s Fort, Fort Ohio, and Fort Ashby.

Historic Theatres

West Virginia is home to many historic theatres. One of many examples is the Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown. The Metropolitan Theatre was billed as “West Virginia’s Most Beautiful Playhouse” and was one of the first theatres in the country to install air conditioning.

Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey was a boxer who spent much of his youth in West Virginia. By broadcasting his boxing matches over the radio, Dempsey became a pioneer of sports broadcasting.

John Henry

John Henry is an African American folk hero, popularly attributed to West Virginia.

John Nash

John Nash was a Noble prize-winning mathematician from Bluefield, West Virginia. Much of Nash’s work heavily contributed to the current field of game theory as well as differential geometry.

Mary Lou Retton

Mary Lou Retton, from Fairmont, West Virginia, was the first American woman to win the all-around Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. At the height of her career, Retton was one of the most popular American athletes.

Mother Jones

Mother Jones was a union organizer and co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World. Much of Jones’ work was done in West Virginia.

Pepperoni Rolls

The pepperoni roll was invented in Fairmont, West Virginia as an easily consumable food for coal miners. The food has since become a stable food of the state of West Virginia.

  • The Historical Markers Database. Pepperoni Roll.
  • Nelson, Candace. The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll. Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University Press, 2017.

Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia is the largest fully steerable telescope in the world.

Settlement of Western Virginia

What is now West Virginia was first settled by Europeans in approximately 1727 in present day Shepherdstown. This settlement helped expand the physical frontier of European settlement on North America.

Waitman T. Willey

Waitman T. Willey was an American politician from Morgantown who was instrumental in West Virginia becoming a state. He was also one of only two people to represent two different states in the Senate.

White Settler Conflicts with Native Americans

European settlers faced numerous conflicts with Native Americans during early settlement and subsequent years.

Zackquill Morgan

Zackquill Morgan was the first white settler in Morgantown.         

Formation of West Virginia University School of Medicine

The West Virginia University School of Medicine was established in 1902 as the first medical school in West Virginia. The school helped to professionalize medicine in the state.


Arthurdale was a social experiment homesteading project by the Department of the Interior in Preston County, West Virginia. First established in the 1930s, Arthurdale became a project Eleanor Roosevelt was heavily involved in. Today, Arthurdale is a historic district and museum.

Berkeley Springs

Berkley Springs was the sight of the first spa in the United States. Spas eventually became a large tourist and wellness destination in West Virginia and other parts of the country.

Brick Roads

The first brick street paved in the world was Summers Street in Charleston, West Virginia. The street was paved in 1873 by Mordecai Levi. The use of bricks revolutionized paving.


Chuck Yeager

Chuck Yeager, born in Myra, West Virginia, was the first confirmed pilot to break the sound barrier.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a historian of African American history and has helped to popularize African American genealogy. Gates was born in Keyser, West Virginia and attended Potomac State College.

Homer Hickam

Homer Hickam, a West Virginia native, is a best-selling author and former NASA engineer. Hickam wrote Rocket Boys, which later got turned into the movie October Sky.

James Rumsey

In 1787, James Rumsey exhibited the first known steam powered boat on the Potomac River near Shepherdstown.

Jerry West

Jerry West is a former professional basketball player from West Virginia. West played for West Virginia University and the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA logo is modelled after West’s silhouette.

John James Abert

John James Abert, from Shepherdstown, was a solider who led the Corps of Topographical Engineers and assisted in mapping the American West.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson, a graduate of West Virginia State, was a mathematician who helped with the earliest manned spaceflights. She was also one of the first African-American female scientists employed by NASA.

Minnie Buckingham Harper (first Black woman legislator in the United States)

In 1928, Minnie Buckingham Harper became the first female African American legislator in the United States. Harper was unanimously selected to fill her husband’s House of Delegates seat after his death.

Morgan Morgan

Morgan Morgan was historically thought to be the first white settler in the area of what is now West Virginia. While German immigrants might have actually been the first, he was still influential to the territory.

Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck was a famed author from West Virginia who was the first American woman to win the Noble Prize in Literature.

PRT (Personal Rapid Transit)

West Virginia University’s Personal Rapid Transit System (PRT) was first opened in 1975. This system was at the forefront of personal transportation technology. Coined a people mover, the PRT helps thousands of students, employees, and community members move between West Virginia University and Morgantown yearly.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, renamed the Weston State Hospital, is a former state hospital built in the Kirkbride Plan. The main building on the site is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the United States.

West Virginia Secession and Statehood

West Virginia succeeded from Virginia in 1861 and officially became its own state in 1863. West Virginia, along with Nebraska, became one of only two states to form during the Civil War.

Women’s Suffrage in West Virginia

West Virginia voted to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment on March 10, 1920, becoming the 34th state to do so. Numerous people in the state vote for years prior to this for the right of women to vote. Prominent West Virigina suffragettes include Harriet B. Jones, Lena Lowe Yost, Izetta Jewel Brown Miller, and Anna Johnson Gates.