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Should History Become a Brand?

Editor:  Ms. Torres attended a meeting of the National Council for Public History in Monterey, California in April.  This is one of the reports she filed for HNN.

What is the difference between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and History? Lee White, the Executive Director for the National Coalition for History in Washington DC, posed this question at a the National Council for Public History in Monterey, California.  The answer was: STEM has a brand. STEM, attendees agreed, is seen as relevant, lucrative, and even sexy. While history, on the other hand, is seen as a thing of the past—unstylish and irrelevant.  The purpose of the seminar was to come up with a marketing strategy to make history relevant for all Americans.  Public historians, academics, teachers, and other representatives at the conference all agreed that “history is absolutely relevant” and that the “study and practice of history is crucial to our nation’s future.” However, throughout the two hour seminar it was unclear exactly how this strategy could be realized.  

Tim Grove, Chief of Museum Learning, National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution, noted that by simply surveying Americans, which has not been done in the United States since the early 90s, public historians could better gauge how the population perceives and engages with its history. Canada and Australia both recently did this type of study. 

A study done four years ago on whether or not National History Day was effective for students was also introduced during the seminar. NHD is a competition where high school students engage with primary and secondary resources and complete a final project with their findings (). The comprehensive study, which can be found online , indicated that all students who participated in the competition outperformed students who did not participate.  Student performance was measured in skills such as reading, writing, critical thinking, research, leadership and communication. For example, students who participated were better at analyzing political cartoons, letters, and speeches. Students who competed were compared with other students in their same socioeconomic class. Low-income and minority students who took part in National History Day also outperformed their counterparts in all areas.  

Attendees agreed that generating conversations about the importance of history and creating a brand are just two of important tasks.  Tim Grove, Kim Fortney, and Max van Balgooy are working to consolidate ideas from various conferences to develop a vision and statement for the Governors Association Meeting in July 2014.