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State of New York State History

Historic Site Visits: Tourists and Teachers

In my last blog, I wrote about historic site visits as one of the sessions as the National Council on Public History (NCPH) Conference: Part II. I received a reply from John Marks, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, American Association for State and Local History (AASLH):

I just wanted to shoot you a quick message to thank you for including mention of our NCPH session on national visitation trends. I’m disappointed we weren’t able to present, because I’m certain it would have been an enlightening conversation. In case you missed it, our free report summary and the full 60+ page report are available at: http://learn.aaslh.org/national-visitation-report. There are also links there to many of the blog posts we’ve written about our findings in recent years. If you’re interested, I also put together a thread on Twitter with links to all of the blog posts and articles we’ve written at AASLH and elsewhere over the past six months or so: https://twitter.com/johngmarks/status/1239582326163681280.

Finally, our 2020 visitation survey is still collecting responses. With the onset of widespread closures to due Coronavirus, gathering reliable 2019 data has become even more important. The survey is available at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/visitation2020.

Please feel free to share any and all of the above with your networks! Thanks again for mentioning the session in your newsletter.

I did download the nine-page National Visitation Report from the AASLH website. Rather than my summarizing it, I have extracted Marks’ own comments on it from his blog Historic Site Visitation and Public Engagement with History he wrote for the American Historical Association (AHA), March 11, 2020.

[H]istorical institutions throughout the country are working with their communities to make the past more relevant and engaging. New research suggests these efforts have had a positive effect, as visitation to history organizations has increased considerably over the past several years. The National Visitation Report (NVR) published in November 2019 by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is the first nationwide survey of visitation trends at historical organizations. It found that visits to history museums, historic sites, and other historical organizations increased nearly 6 percent between 2013 and 2018. This growth was evident for institutions of nearly every type, of different budget sizes, and in every region of the country.

The NVR reveals that some of the strongest visitation growth occurred at the small historical societies and museums that are ubiquitous in towns and counties across the US. Institutions with annual operating budgets of less than $50,000, for example, saw their visitation grow 18 percent, the largest increase of any budget level. Those with budgets between $50,000 and $250,000 saw visitation increase nearly 13 percent. Institutions of this size, many of which are operated solely by volunteers, form the majority of the nation’s more than 20,000 historical organizations. 

A growing number of institutions [are] creating programs and exhibitions built on the concepts of shared authority and community-engaged practice. Public history institutions are working more directly with their audiences, taking seriously their understandings of the past and their concerns in the present, integrating community knowledge and priorities into the work of the institution.

Marks draws attention to changes at the college and graduate school level involving humanities and public history. He considers it important to connect knowledge of the past with contemporary issues.

With this introduction in mind, let me shift to a session I did attend at the AHA conference on January 2, 2015, in New York. (I have special memories of the conference since the escalator to the conference and the registration area outside the meeting rooms appeared in the George Clooney movie Michael Clayton.) The AHA session was less dramatic.

What Should History Teachers Learn at Historic Sites? A Research Agenda

Chair: Christine Baron, Teachers College, Columbia University
Panel:
Linda A. Sargent Wood, Northern Arizona University
Kelly Schrum, George Mason University
Brenda Trofanenko, Acadia University
Christine Woyshner, Temple University
Denice Blair, Michigan State University

Since the 1990s, professional development for teachers has been a large-scale function of museums’ and historic sites’ education departments. Historic sites are increasingly called upon to help remedy the persistent reproach that many teachers lack both content knowledge in history and enthusiasm for the subject. Yet, despite two decades of intensive work with teachers, including the decade-long Teaching American History Grants (TAH) experience, little research exists on the effectiveness of historic sites’ role in teacher education.

The expectation that historic sites will support formal teacher preparation and professional development continues to grow. Several states, with Pennsylvania at the fore, are considering requiring pre-service teachers to do part of their fieldwork in museums and historic sites. Every state curriculum framework includes the recommendation that teachers should partner with historic sites and museums to help students learn about history [bold added]. Yet, even as TAH funding has been eliminated, the need for quality history teacher education has not. Historic sites are continuing to be asked to provide teacher education. It is imperative that we understand the methods and mechanisms that help teachers effectively develop historical analytical skills and the ability to transfer that learning to the classroom. Accordingly, we need historic site-specific tools and research protocols for discerning and documenting teacher learning, clarity about best practices, and useable tools for assessment.

To address this gap, Christine Baron and Brenda Trofanenko organized a research conference sponsored by the largest education research organization in North America, to assemble experts in the Learning Sciences, History and Museum Education at Boston University in early 2014 to investigate the effective use of historic sites as centers for history teacher education and professional development.

 Researchers gathered for a three-day conference at Boston University to (a) develop a status report on the state of empirical research in this field, (b) identify effective protocols for discerning and documenting teacher learning at historic sites, (c) identify specific pedagogies, methodologies, assessment and evaluation tools that demonstrably promote analysis of historical materials on-site and classroom integration (d) develop a research agenda to further the field and (e) stimulate partnerships in which to execute the necessary research.

This panel, comprised of several of the conference scholars, will lay out the conference findings, the critical areas identified for further research, and some of the projects generated through the conference discussions. Considerable time will be devoted to discussing the findings in conversation with session attendees, both in terms of the research opportunities and project development.

The audience for this session, much like the participants at the conference on which it reports, includes the historians, both academic and public, history teacher educators, museum and historic site educators, and digital humanities scholars that work at the intersection of history and teaching.

I think sessions on this topic should be a regular part of history museum conferences as well as social studies conferences. Furthermore, as I mentioned in the NCPH blogs, since not everyone can attend such conferences and even people who do cannot attend all sessions, there needs to be a better way to disseminate the information presented here. One of the byproducts of the current coronavirus may be the development of a more extensive use of the internet to make conference presentations available online. At present, not all conferences even list the abstract of the presentations online. I expect there will be changes in this regard. Also more cross referencing so people who are members or who are affiliated with one organization can learn about relevant sessions at other conferences. Whether such cooperation is possible or not, is another matter. Let me correct that, it is possible, but whether or not it happens is the issue.

In the next blog, I will continue with this topic and write about a book, an article, and a teacher from Massachusetts.

3 thoughts on “Historic Site Visits: Tourists and Teachers

  1. As kids when my father drove us on week end visits up and down the Schoharie valley. we stopped at every historic site. We visited battlefields, Indian sites, geologic wonders. We followed Sullivan’s march and wondered how a New England seaman became an infantry soldier. I grew up. The habit stuck! The habit stuck. I drove along the Mohawk, the Esopus creeks and rivers all around the country and learned so much. At age 94 I do not drive. But I had so much fun guessing “what might have happened if Blucher would have slept late? If Hamilton and Madison never met or were too busy to write? If the horse shoe nail had not been lost?” Every stone or brick in an arch keeps the structure standing. LOCAL history IS history…What do YOU think? David

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