In an era dominated by technological changes, instant global telecommunications and educational emphases focused on science and math, do people still care about history, historic places or history organizations?
Exploring the Public Value of Ohio’s History, a report by the University of Toledo’s Urban Affairs Center in partnership with the Ohio Historical Society, shows that Ohioans do care about history. Results from four separate surveys conducted by the Urban Affairs Center indicate that most respondents expressed a deep appreciation for history, feel a personal connection to it and want their state to do more to demonstrate enthusiasm for history as an educational tool and a force for stronger civic engagement. The report also discusses economic opportunities associated with Ohio history and makes recommendations for policies and programs.
“This report clearly demonstrates that history is important to Ohioans,” said Bill Laidlaw, executive director and CEO of the Ohio Historical Society. “We commissioned this study in an effort to better define how the public perceives history and how it values the past. We hope the findings will benefit decision makers—state policymakers, history advocates and organizations, educators and, especially, the public.”
About the Survey
Exploring the Public Value of Ohio’s History summarizes survey data from four different points of view: historic site administrators, visitors to historic sites and museums, social studies teachers and the general public. In all, 2,341 people, almost all of them Ohio residents, responded to surveys either by phone, in person or online during the fall of 2008. The goal was to capture the extent to which people from varying perspectives care about and perceive of the public value of history in their daily lives.
The report helps answer basic questions, such as: What events, memories and timeframes do people consider history? Do people care about their own past or that of their community? How do people prefer to use history or learn from it? Do those who say they value history differ in any way from those who say they do not? Finally, the report discusses the value of historic preservation, offers recommendations for linking history with public policy opportunities as well as 10 case studies, or examples, of how history and historic preservation activities today are strengthening communities and adding value to the public.
History, Historic Sites Valued by Public and Teachers
Responses from the general public surveyed revealed that Ohioans view history in surprisingly broad and inclusive ways. Ohioans are more likely to cite personal examples of history they lived through or remember, even as recent as Hurricane Katrina (93 percent), before citing more distant, grand events of history, such as Ancient Rome (71 percent) or World War II (50 percent).
Overall, Ohioans expressed an impressive appreciation for their state history—both at personal and more global levels. Among those surveyed, 86 percent say the state’s history and historic places are important to them. People also value history at a personal level: 76 percent said they think about the past when making important decisions; 72 percent looked to historic figures as roles models; and 94 percent said their family history is important to them.
People who visit Ohio’s historic sites felt overwhelming satisfaction with the learning (99 percent) or entertainment opportunity (96 percent) provided by the historic site or museum. Nearly 100 percent of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the visit was an opportunity to engage in quality family time. While 93 percent said that they would make a return visit within two years, almost all said they would recommend the site to others.
When it comes to teaching history, all the Ohio social studies teachers surveyed said that field trips to local historic sites enhanced the student’s learning experience and helped the teacher be more effective in the classroom. Also, teachers asserted that neither society nor the government put enough value in teaching history, especially the history of their own communities. Educators said they turn to local history organizations (archives, historic sites, etc.) to obtain primary source materials (90 percent), but want an even deeper integration of Ohio’s history in their classrooms. One teacher observed that “no one bled on the field or bravely stood up against tyranny because x=5. Children grow into responsible citizens inspired by serious study of they history.”
Another finding shows that engaging with history clearly allows people to connect with feelings of civic pride and responsibility. Almost all of the survey respondents said their visit to an Ohio site made them proud to be an American. Additionally, there is a clear tie between those who say that history is important and civic participation – they are 23 percent more likely to do things like vote, join community organizations and find other avenues for civic engagement – than those who say they do not think history is important.
The report concludes that Ohio would benefit by capitalizing on the economic and public policy opportunities that integrate Ohio history, tourism and historic preservation. Investing in Ohio’s school reform efforts, the upcoming Civil War sesquicentennial, heritage tourism promotion, historic preservation projects throughout the state and a competitive matching grants program for local history-related organizations are a few examples of opportunities for Ohio’s leaders to connect meaningfully Ohio’s history with its future.
“We know that history plays a defining role in our personal and democratic beliefs, but the emphasis on the study of history as well as our society’s investment in our state’s heritage has significantly waned,” Laidlaw said. “This report shows that Ohioans deeply value their history and that the time to invest in it, in our schools and in our communities, is now.”
Today is June 30, the last day of the fiscal year for the state of Ohio. As you look through the articles featured over the last 13 days, you’ll learn about some of the Ohio Historical Society’s outreach programs and historic sites. However, there’s so much more that we as an organization do for Ohio’s history. From special events, like Dickens of a Christmas at Ohio Village and Celebrations at Fort Ancient, to Distance Learning programs and the Archives-Library, the Ohio Historical Society helps to enrich our state’s culture by preserving its heritage. What’s in store for FY2010? Drastic budget cuts that, if enacted, would not only jeopardize Ohio’s past, but its future. You can make a difference. Save Ohio’s History today by e-mailing your state officials.
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