In May 2016 representatives from dozens of historical agencies, organizations, and museums met at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
Two of the meeting organizers, Tim Grove of the Air and Space Museum and John Dichtl of the American Association of State and Local History, report on the event at History News Network.
The History Relevance Campaign, a three-year old effort in the history field to raise the profile of history in American society, joined forces with the Smithsonian Institution on May 24 for a day-long meeting titled History Relevance: Sparking a National Conversation. Hosted by the National Museum of American History, the meeting included representatives from across the history spectrum including the National Archives and Records Administration, National Park Service, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Council for Public History, National History Day, American Alliance of Museums, the National Coalition for History and a few state history organizations.
The History Relevance Campaign was founded by a group of history professionals who believe that a united voice in the history field and better communication among its widespread practitioners would lead to more influence and funding. They recognize that history organizations are not as articulate as they could be in demonstrating their relevance and that increased evaluation of their impact in their communities could lead to a better understanding of the value of history in general.
To that end, the group’s signature piece so far is the Value of History statement, a list of seven ways that the study of history brings value to society. The statement was crowdsourced in various professional conferences over two years and to date has been endorsed by more than one hundred thirty history organizations across the country. This week the Smithsonian added its name to the list.
The Campaign’s lofty goals begin with its impact statement: “People value history for its relevance to modern life, and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.” Since there are many potential audiences for the message, including the entire American public, the Campaign is focusing on three audiences to start: history organizations, K-20 education, and funders. Most of their efforts so far have gone toward the first group: hence, lining up one hundred and thirty-two endorsers of the statement. They want their colleagues across the historical enterprise to advocate for history and historical thinking. On the other two audiences—K-20 and funders—the Campaign is just getting started. They recognize that the American Historical Association and National History Day and others are well advanced in that arena. For funders, the Campaign’s goal is for them to begin using a common set of metrics for evaluating the impact of the projects they fund, and requiring their grant recipients to measure impact. Campaign leaders also want funders to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to contemporary conversations.
The May 24 meeting began with remarks by Acting Smithsonian Provost Richard Kurin who offered some profound examples of history relevance. The group then briefly considered perceptions of the past and several national studies: Rosenzweig and Thelen’s The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life, History at the Crossroads: Australians and the Past, and Canadians and Their Pasts. The last major study of US perceptions was in 1998. The group questioned whether it is time for another one.
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