How History is Seen by the Public: AASLH Partnership for Grant-Funded Project

June 27, 2019

History has always been a subject I have been interested in studying and, as I developed my education and career, I became more interested in finding effective ways to translate the study of history to school children and adult visitors. Over the years, I participated in professional development programs that delved into museum education and involving the public in conversations to help visitors learn more about topics in history, art, STEM, et cetera. I continue to grow and improve the quality of my practices as a museum educator. As the summer begins, I started to reflect on my previous experiences and figure out how I can be a better museum educator as I turn to focusing back to history.

This past week I learned about the partnership between the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), Washington, D.C.-based FrameWorks Institute, National Council on Public History (NCPH), and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) that received a grant for a new project researching American attitudes towards history called “Framing History with the American Public”. The grant of $479,000 is from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which is a foundation that endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. According to an article released by AASLH

Over the next three years, we will carry out a comprehensive, nationwide study of how the public views, interprets, and uses a wide variety of history activities and will develop new tools to strengthen the field’s communications efforts.

“Framing History” will not only provide unprecedented detail about how Americans view these organizations and their work, it will build, test, and share tools that all organizations and practitioners can use to positively affect public understanding of the value of history. Whether it’s a historical society communicating with new audiences, an academic department talking with potential majors, or a museum making their case to funders or legislators, this project will provide history practitioners with tools to frame their messages as effectively as possible.

It is an interesting project to me because my background in history and public history naturally leads me to finding ways to connect with the public to help keep history relevant. By having that information, it will especially help museums and historical societies including the Three Village Historical Society strengthen their communication skills in educating the public on history. If we can improve the way we connect with the public, we will be able to express the significance of history and why we need to keep historical sites and objects protected.

The article continued by briefly explaining the three phases of the project including the partners establishing a panel of history professionals representing the overall history field to identify and principles experts use to explain their work. Another phase of the project was to utilize focus groups, surveys, and on the street interviews to fill in gaps on the understanding of history. Then the last phase is to develop and share those tools and educational materials to ensure historical professionals in the community of the effectiveness of the results.

I am glad that it will take some time to complete the project, even though at the same time I would like to know at an earlier point than stated, because it is important to accurately gain the information needed so we can better serve the public and provide a compelling argument for sharing and preserving history. I also believe the information that will be gathered from the research will also help bring more people in the history field since they will be more informed of what makes history important for our country and for our world. There are a lot of myths about the history major that are addressed in articles like the American Historical Association’s article “History Is Not A Useless Major: Fighting Myths With Data” written by Paul B. Sturtevant, and by having a comprehensive information to share with the public it could inspire more students to major in history and therefore preserve future historical scholarship. To learn more about the project, check out the link from AASLH in the resources section.

I look forward to learning more as the project commences!

Discussion Questions: How do you feel about history? What do you hope for from this project? What do you think we could do to improve communications about history?

Announcement: Because next Thursday is the Fourth of July celebration in the United States, I will not post a new blog post, but I will share previous posts next week.

Resources:

https://aaslh.org/aaslh-receives-mellon-foundation-grant/

https://mellon.org/

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data

2 thoughts on “How History is Seen by the Public: AASLH Partnership for Grant-Funded Project”

  1. Congratulations! This is very interesting. Some of my art has been acquired in permanent collection of a Medical History Museum. Some visitors wrote in the guest register the museum was very interesting butt some of the displays involving human conflict artifacts and imagery were difficult subjects for (their)children. The management sought ways to solve this and yet still get message across about the critical role medical corps played in pre- industrial battles – before effect of simple sterilization was known. Keep us posted on your discoveries.

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    1. Thank you Teresa! I would love to see what AASLH and their partners find in their hard work to come. And congratulations on having your art becoming a part of the permanent collection of a medical history museum and I am interested in finding out what the management decides on how they will respond to the comments.

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