Humanities Indicators Results Reaction: Visitors Historic Sites and Museums on the Rise

August 15, 2019

This past Monday, I discovered an interesting study that was examined and presented by Humanities Indicators. For those who are not familiar with them, Humanities Indicators is run by the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. The Academy is an honorary society that recognizes and celebrates the excellence of its members, and it is an independent research center convening the leaders from across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address significant challenges. Humanities Indicators, according to the website, presents data which are quantitative descriptive statistics that chart trends over time in aspects of the humanities that are of interest to a wide audience and for which there are available data. As the title suggests, the results from the study revealed the number of visitors coming to historic sites and museums is on the rise.

On the results page, it revealed that the results were updated this month, so we know they continuously update the information as new studies have been completed. In the report, it stated according to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), the percentage of people making at least one such visit fell steadily from 1982 to 2012, before rising somewhat in 2017. The recent results make me hopeful that the numbers will continue to increase especially since we need to preserve the historic sites, parks, and collections for future generations to learn about our past, and learn how we remember and preserve the past. It is important now more than ever to help educate people and future generations why history is significant in understanding how the country came to the current state it is in. I continued to read the study to learn about the findings they discovered about historic sites and museums.

There were a few findings and trends they reported on the webpage to explain the rise of visitors to historic sites and museums. For instance, the number of American adults who visited historic sites has changed in a few ways:

In 2017, 28% of American adults reported visiting a historic site in the previous year. This represented an increase of 4.4 percentage points from 2012 (the last time SPPA was administered), but a decrease of 8.9 percentage points from 1982 (Indicator V-13a). The bulk of the decline in visitation occurred from 2002 to 2008.

The Indicator V-13a refers to the bar graph that measures the percentage of U.S. adults by age who toured a park, monument, building, or neighborhood for historic or design value in the previous 12 months between 1982 and 2017. What did not surprise me too much was the bulk of the decline between 2002 and 2008 since it was the years leading up to the recession and I assume not many people were willing or able to travel as much (of course there is more than one reason for the decline). Other findings and trends that were shared by Humanities Indicators include:

From 1982 to 2017, the differences among age groups with respect to rates of historic site visitation decreased. For example, in 1982, the rate of visitation among 25-to-34-year-olds (the group most likely to visit a historic site in that survey) was approximately 11 percentage points higher than that of the youngest age group (18-to-24-year-olds), and more than 17 points higher than that of people ages 65–74. By 2017, however, the visitation rate of 25-to-34-year-olds had dropped to within five percentage points of the younger cohort and was virtually identical of that for the older group.

Much of the recent growth in visits to historic sites occurred among parks classified as national memorials and was driven by a particularly high level of visitation at sites that did not exist in 1995, such as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (3.3 million visitors in 2018), the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (3.6 million visitors), and the World War II Memorial (4.7 million visitors). As a result, visits to national memorials increased more than 300% from 1995 to 2016, even as the number of sites increased just 26% (from 23 to 29). In comparison, visits to national monuments increased only 3%, even as the number of sites in the category increased by 9% (from 64 to 70). From 2016 to 2018, the number of visits fell in every category, with the largest decline occurring at the memorial sites (down 10%), and the smallest drop at national monuments (3%).

When I read the study not only was I beginning to see hope in the future of museum and historic site visits, but I also began to get curious about how historic sites and museums visits were influenced by people outside the country visiting the United States. Is there a study out there that showed foreign visitors at the historic sites, parks, museums? Were the patterns like what has been presented in this study?

I would also be interested in the number of families that visit the historic sites and museums. Are there similar patterns found in this study for family visitors? It would be worth looking into both foreign visitors and families.

To find out the rest of the findings and the charts that visually represented the results they discovered, I included a link to the original site they presented the study. They also included a study on attendance of art museums, and I included the link to this one as well.

Resources:

Historic Sites Visits: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=101

Art Museum Attendance: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=102

American Academy of the Arts and Sciences: https://www.amacad.org/

Humanities Indicators: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/default.aspx

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