The American Academy of Arts & Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (HI) project released a new report this morning on historic site visitation from 1989 to 2012. The report finds that:
The data reveal generational differences with respect to Americans’ tendency to visit historic sites (Indicator V-13b). With each birth cohort, Americans of all ages have been less likely to visit historic sites. For example, those born from 1938 to 1947 had a 45% likelihood of having visited a historic site in the previous 12 months when they were ages 35–44, while those who were born in the 1968–1977 period had only a 23% likelihood of having visited a historic site when they were the same age.
As people aged they were less likely to visit a historic site. In each of the three cohorts for which the most complete data are available, the drop-off in historic site visitation over the life course is at least 25%.
It’s somewhat startling to read that “no organization or individual researcher has yet produced a reliable estimate of total visitation for U.S. historic sites” based on data gathered by the sites themselves. Data for this HI report comes from the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.” That means the data is based on what visitors say about their own behavior. Only the National Park Service provides a national picture of visitation rates by gathering data from its own historic sites.
There are so many questions that can be asked about this data. One of the first things we asked after looking through the results was whether it would be possible to use this HI report, the NPS’s numbers, and a sampling of visitor data from sites to determine if the 1976 Bicentennial era had a lasting effect on the visitation tendencies who experience it at a formative age?
There are many interesting angles in this Historic Site Visits report and in the other HI resources. We encourage you to look through the entire report and think about how these numbers relate to your practice of history.