The Public History Research Lab of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) has issued it’s National Visitation Report. This report is the only national effort to analyze trends in visitation at history organizations of all types and sizes, all across the United States.
Through an annual survey, the Public History Research Lab gathers visitation data to better understand year-to-year shifts in the way Americans engage with history organizations and to provide organizational decision-makers with benchmark data against which they can compare their own institutions.
Gathering data on a field as vast and institutionally diverse — in terms of size, structure, and purpose — as public history is no easy task. Some very small organizations lack the capacity to
accurately track the number of visitors they serve, while some large institutions question the value of visitation metrics altogether.
Indeed, tracking visitation trends is not the only way to measure public engagement or institutional health; it may not even be the best way. With well over 20,000 history organizations nationwide, however — including thousands of all-volunteer museums, historical societies, and other entities — there are few metrics comparable across the huge range of different institution types and sizes that make up our field.
The report’s findings are a way of assessing how varied institutions have engaged with their audiences over the past two years, as the cultural sector and the nation continue to recover from the COVID pandemic.
The data, based on responses to the “National Visitation Survey for History Organizations,” collected through an online form in February and March of 2023 from 663 history organizations, reveals that visits to history institutions increased in 2022, a continuation of an ongoing recovery from the disruptions of the pandemic.
The number of in-person visits to history organizations increased by 37 percent from 2021 to 2022, adding to the visitation increases that began in 2021. Although this overall number
represents substantial growth and is a positive sign for the field, most history institutions still received fewer visitors last year than they did before the beginning of the pandemic