A blurry crowd of people walking in front of a white building with columns.

By John Marks, PhD., Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH

AASLH learned this week that we have received a major grant of $479,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for an exciting new project to research American attitudes towards history. The project, called “Framing History with the American Public,” will be completed in collaboration with the Washington, D.C.-based FrameWorks Institute, the National Council on Public History (NCPH), and the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Over the next three years, we will carry out a comprehensive, nationwide study of how the public views, interprets, and uses a wide variety of history activities and will develop new tools to strengthen the field’s communications efforts.

“This project could fundamentally transform the way the history field communicates with the public,” said AASLH President & CEO John Dichtl. “As we approach the nation’s 250th anniversary, ‘Framing History’ will empower history organizations to convey their impact in ways that have been proven to shift public understanding.” Inspired by the work of the History Relevance initiative, this project will equip the history community with a new, more effective communications framework.

The history community in the United States contains more than twenty thousand public history organizations, more than one thousand academic departments, and countless history advocates around the country. “Framing History” will not only provide unprecedented detail about how Americans view these organizations and their work, it will build, test, and share tools that all organizations and practitioners can use to positively affect public understanding of the value of history. Whether it’s a historical society communicating with new audiences, an academic department talking with potential majors, or a museum making their case to funders or legislators, this project will provide history practitioners with tools to frame their messages as effectively as possible.

“The public needs a new narrative—a new core story—about history, now more than ever,” said Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO of FrameWorks Institute, which received a 2015 MacArthur Foundation award for creative and effective institutions. “History has a deep and profound influence on understanding and solving our social problems and plays a vital role in building and supporting an engaged citizenry. We are excited to be involved in helping to move the field forward by building understanding of and support for history as a discipline and practice.”

To begin, AASLH, NCPH, and OAH will establish a panel of history professionals representing the full breadth of the field to help the FrameWorks Institute identify the shared ideas and principles experts use to explain their work. Next, FrameWorks will conduct interviews around the country to better understand how Americans view history and its value to society and the gaps between their view and that of experts. In phase two of the project, FrameWorks will work with AASLH and partners to establish framing devices that can help overcome these gaps in understanding and empirically test their effectiveness through focus groups, experimental surveys, and on-the-street interviews.

In phase three, AASLH, NCPH, and OAH will help develop and share tools and educational materials to ensure professionals across the history community adopt the project’s findings. We will share the project’s findings through conference sessions, workshops, webinars, and other means as we help the history community understand and use these new framing devices. The project is scheduled to begin this later this summer. We plan to report about our findings as often as we can along the way, so stay tuned for more from this exciting project!

Want to know more? Contact John Marks, Ph.D., Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH: marks@aaslh.org; 615-320-3203.