Category Archives: History

“State of the First Amendment” Survey Results Released by Newseum

First Amendment 2015The State of the First Amendment survey, conducted each year since 1997 by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, tests Americans’ knowledge of their core freedoms and samples their opinions on First Amendment issues of the day.  The survey again found that most Americans are unable to name more than one or two of the five freedoms in the First Amendment —religion, speech, press, assembly and petition— and that one-third cannot name any of the five.  Looks like a great opportunity for history organizations!

The 2015 survey questions also covered topics including the use of Confederate flags Continue reading

Using Archaeological Research to Interpret Your Site?

Archaeological excavations at James Madison's Montpelier in Virginia.

Archaeological excavations at James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia.

If your historic site or history museum is using or would like to use archaeology in your research (even if you’re not conducting archaeology), the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is seeking your suggestions and advice to improve and enhance the “For the Public” section of their website via a survey (open until July 22).

SAA launched For the Public in 2006 as a clearinghouse to share resources, best practices, and general information about the discipline of archaeology with both the professional community and the interested public.  The site has now grown to a complex tangle of over 400 linked pages. Many of the pages need substantive revision in content, function, and aesthetic perspectives. As they continue the process of revision, they would appreciate Continue reading

So Many Possibilities for Historic Sites at AASLH Annual Meeting

AASLH Louisville 2015The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) just delivered the preliminary program for its annual meeting, which will be held in Louisville, Kentucky from September 16-19, 2015.  Obviously, the conference is centered around history but there are several sessions, workshops, and field trips that focus on historic sites and house museums, including:

  • Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century with James Stevens of ConsultEcon Inc., who recently studied the heritage tourism sector in Philadelphia
  • Restoration and Reconstruction: Fulfilling the Possibilities of a 21st Century Museum, a discussion about the reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in South Carolina (also reviewed in the recent issue of the Public Historian and the Journal of American History; not to be confused with the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in Georgia)
  • Old House, New Diverse Stories, a brainstorming session led by Ken Turino of Historic New England
  • An Untapped Resource: How to Locate and Use Legal Cases at Historic Sites, a session to learn how to mine legal case files to find compelling narratives for exhibits and programs
  • Interpreting Religion at Historic Sites, a discussion on leveraging “historical truth when interpreting religion” led by the historian of the Navigators.
  • An afternoon tour of the exuberant Second Empire Culbertson Mansion and Farmington, the Federal-style home of Lucy and John Speed.
  • There may be bourbon at the breakfast for historic house museums when Dennis Walsh from Buffalo Trace Distillery discusses the preservation of this historic sites (and it’s pretty cool website, too)
  • An evening at Locust Grove, a National Historic Landmark, with costumed interpreters, live music, and a three-course buffet.
Sam Winburg

Sam Wineburg

With 65 sessions, there is much, much more happening and you’ll be torn about what to do.  There’s certainly enough to appeal to directors, curators, historians, educators, and preservationists.  I’m particularly eager to hear Sam Wineburg, professor of education and history at Stanford University and author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (see “A History of Flawed Teaching“), and the follow-up discussion led by Tim Grove, chief of museum learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  Wineburg is currently developing new forms of assessment to measure historical understanding and undertaking a longitudinal study on the development of historical consciousness among adolescents in three communities.  But I don’t want to neglect the three other outstanding plenary speakers: Wendell Berry, James Klotter, Renee Shaw, and Carol Kammen.

I rarely ever skip the AASLH annual meeting and I plan to be there this year.  Registration is $250 if you jump in before July 24 and there’s the alternative online conference featuring six sessions.

 

Knowledge of US History Unchanged Overall for 8th Graders, but Differences Are in the Details

Average score changes between 2010 and 2014 in NEEP at grade 8 by subject.

Average score changes between 2010 and 2014 in NEEP at grade 8 by subject. To view the full report, go to NationsReportCard.gov.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which administers National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card), recently announced that overall academic performance of eighth-graders in U.S. history, geography and civics has remained unchanged since 2010, though Hispanic students have made gains in U.S. history and geography.

NAEP reports performance using average scores and percentages of students performing at or above three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The Basic level denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for grade-appropriate work; Proficient denotes solid academic performance; and Advanced represents superior work. The assessment is based on nationally representative samples of more than 29,000 eighth-graders in total across the country.

The 2014 results for U. S. history show that 18 percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above Proficient, which is basically unchanged from 17 percent in 2010 and 2006. There are significant differences by ethnicity: Continue reading

History Relevance Campaign Convenes at Mt. Vernon

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Thanks to the support of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, the steering committee of the History Relevance Campaign held a retreat this past week to plan its next steps.  Randi Korn facilitated the retreat to clarify our impact and distinctiveness as well as begin to draft outcomes for our work.  It was a long day and a half but we made tremendous progress.  Although we won’t be ready to share the results for another month or so (our draft ideas are still being discussed), we are making progress in several other areas:

1.  “The Value of History:  Seven Ways It Is Essential” is available and we encourage history organizations of all sizes to integrate it into their activities and programs.  Add the name of your organization to Continue reading

On Ferguson and Related Events: How Should Historic Sites Respond?

Storefronts that were covered with plywood during the protests in Ferguson were painted by local artists and collected by the Missouri History Museum.

Ferguson and related events are sparking broad protests over the treatment of African Americans by the police and the courts.  Should museums and historic sites be involved?  Should they be collecting, preserving, or interpreting these present-day events? Should they provide a place for protest or response?  Or are these beyond their roles and responsibilities?  There are no easy answers because every site and every community is different, but ultimately, people engage with historic places because there’s a personal connection–historic sites are collecting, preserving, or interpreting topics that are relevant and meaningful to the visitor.

Identifying what is relevant and meaningful isn’t always easy but contemporary events offer a glimpse.  People discuss, explore, study, question, react to, and protest about issues that matter to them, and the more people that are involved around the same issue, the more significant it is.

Museums and historic sites inhabit a special “third space” in society that allows us to do things that can’t happen at home or work. They allow diverse people to discuss, explore, study, question, react to, and protest about issues in a safe place.  As Presence of the Past has shown, we are Continue reading

At the press: Interpreting African American History and Culture

Cover Interpreting Af Am History smallMy book, Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites is now at the press and will be available in December from Rowman and Littlefield.  I’ve been assembling it for the past two years and just completed the index, so now it’s firmly in the hands of the publisher.  This book is part of a new “interpreting” series launched by Rowman and Littlefield and the American Association for State and Local History.  Also released this year are books on topics that include slavery, Native American history and culture, LGBT history, and the prohibition era.  If you’d like to order a copy of any of these books at a nice 25 percent discount, use the code 4F14MSTD by December 31, 2014.

Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites is another step in a path being laid by many people for nearly 150 years. Although much has been accomplished at museums and historic sites to enhance and improve the interpretation of African American history and culture, we’ve also learned Continue reading

Is Historic Preservation Ready to Preserve Culture as well as Architecture?

Sustaining San Francisco's Living History by San Francisco Heritage

Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History by San Francisco Heritage

The fundamental boundaries of historic preservation have been significantly expanded by San Francisco Heritage, one of the country’s leading historic preservation organizations. In Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History: Strategies for Conserving Cultural Heritage Assets, they state that, “Despite their effectiveness in conserving architectural resources, traditional historic preservation protections are often ill-suited to address the challenges facing cultural heritage assets. . . Historic designation is not always feasible or appropriate, nor does it protect against rent increases, evictions, challenges with leadership succession, and other factors that threaten longtime institutions.”   In an effort to conserve San Francisco’s non-architectural heritage, historic preservation must consider “both tangible and intangible [elements] that help define the beliefs, customs, and practices of a particular community.” Did you notice the expanded definition?  Here it is again:  “Tangible elements may include a community’s land, buildings, public spaces, or artwork [the traditional domain of historic preservation], while intangible elements may include organizations and institutions, businesses, cultural activities and events, and even people [the unexplored territory].”

With many historic preservation organizations, it’s all about the architecture so protecting landscapes, public spaces, and artwork is already a stretch.  They’re often not aware that Continue reading

Know a Museum or Site Making an Impact with History?

Discussing the History Relevance Campaign at a packed session at AASLH in St. Paul.

Discussing the History Relevance Campaign at a packed session at AASLH in St. Paul. Photo by Lee Wright.

At the American Association for State and Local History annual meeting in St. Paul, the History Relevance Campaign presented an update on their work to a packed audience. During the session, we presented the Impact Project, a year-long process for identifying and studying historic sites and history museums that are making history relevant in their community. The goals of the Impact Project are to:

  • Increase the use of history as a way to understand and address critical community issues.
  • Help board members and staff make an impact in their communities by integrating best practices into their strategic and interpretive plans
  • Encourage AASLH and other professional associations to include standards on community relevance and impact
  • Encourage academic programs in history, public history, and museum studies to include community relevance and impact in their curriculum
  • Encourage elected officials, funders, and communities to provide more support for history organizations that are making an impact
  • Provide every Governor with at least one example of history organizations that are making an impact in their state

We Need Your Help

We are looking for history museums, historic sites, and similar organizations that are Continue reading

Video: Walkthrough the Mauritshuis ‘Het Gebouw’ exposition

Mauritshuis, the 17th-century house in the Netherlands that has an extraordinary collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings has recently reopened following a two-year renovation.  This 1:45 video shows the new temporary interactive exhibit about the building developed by Haute Technique.