How to Pick a Local Topic

Picking a Local Topic

Choosing a local topic is a great way to learn more about your community and its history. There are a lot of books and historical materials about La Crosse and all of its surrounding cities, towns, villages, and areas.

But how do you pick a local topic? The first step is to think about what you've always wondered regarding La Crosse's history. What do you want to know more about? What's something in La Crosse that you enjoy? Perhaps you can research the history of that. Or think of a time in history that you really like learning about and research what people in La Crosse did during that time or event and how they reacted to it.

To help you out, here are some local topics. By clicking on them, you can find resources to help you brainstorm research ideas:

Picking a Wisconsin Topic

The Wisconsin Historical Society compiles a list of state-wide topics that go with the annual theme. You can find a link to this list on their NHD Topic Ideas page.

Primary Sources for Your Local or State Topic

Once you have an area of interest, the second step is to make sure you will find enough sources for your topic. You don't have to know your thesis, or your argument, yet, but you should have an idea of what direction you want to go in.


Maybe you want to argue that La Crosse was a medical hub and center of innovation due to Dr. Gundersen's advancement with the appendectomy and, later, the polio treatment at the Mayo Hospital.

What Collections page would you go to in order to find resources about this topic? Do any of the resources on that page support this argument? Which ones?

When you go to the Health and Healthcare page, you will find primary and secondary resources that will support this argument. For a time, there was even a train dubbed "The Appendectomy Express" due to all the patients coming into town for Dr. Gundersen's procedure.

Some local topics simply won't have enough primary sources for you to research. This is just part of studying history. If this is the case, your NHD research will not have the historical evidence needed to make it a strong project. However, you have options! Consider broadening your topic to include other themes, which could also be local, or you could look at regional, national, or global connections to your local topic.

If this applies to you, have a conversation with your teacher or librarian to brainstorm ways to redirect your research!