A Terrible Take From Intellectual Takeout on Historical Sites

On May 30th, 2019, Intellectual Takeout posted this article, "Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation's Historical Sites?" And the author puts the problem as largely a result of "changing tastes". The problem being that historical sites across the United States are seeing significant declines in visitors. This was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus all thoughts in this article, and the IT article should be viewed from that lens.

Our visit to the Monticello Railway Museum, July 2019

To put it nicely, I find this article to be terribly written, with the goal of convincing certain groups of people that young people do not have an interest in history. And given the comments I’ve seen in a couple Facebook groups about it, it worked quite well. This is incredibly divisive, dangerous, and most importantly, wrong, and while I'm older than most of Generation Z now (I'm pushing 30), I'm hopeful that this site is a stark rebuke of this take.

A pic from our visit to the Illinois Railway Museum

This blog, and my presence on social media, and the dozens of others that cater to other parts of history is proof that younger generations definitely have an interest in history, including American history.

In fact, I would say that there is more of an interest in history now than in earlier times. We are seeing the younger generations come to grips with history in the United States in ways that simply haven't been done before. It is not a stretch in the slightest that many parts of history that have been taught in America are at best, whitewashed over, and at worst, wrong.

And for those young people that don’t seem to care about history, have you thought of any way to bring that history alive to them? Or is it simply easier to complain about the younger generations?

Our visit to the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum

The issue I believe that many historical sites face is the ease of access to information, not an indifference of younger generations. I can read almost everything there is to know about the Civil War from my iPhone.

Some of you may say that visiting Gettysburg or other battle sites gives you a completely different perspective on the war than you could from reading about it, and that is absolutely true, but that’s also easier said than done for most of us. 

Gettysburg is a 1000 mile trip for me, and prohibitively expensive for many. Who has weeks of vacation time, and more importantly, disposable income for such a trip? Far too few of us.

Nothing is too far for JetLaggedJaff though

Unlike some comments I’ve seen, I do not intend to frame my argument in a generational context. There are many reasons why historic sites are seeing declining guests, and it is counterintuitive to place the blame solely on the supposed indifference of millennials.

I think that this is a problem of the Shifting-Baseline Syndrome, and by that I mean that statistics on visits to historical sites alone cannot be the only metric one uses to define whether younger generations have a taste for history. It is sad to see as many museums as there are deal with the effects of changing times and a decline in attendance, but I think this could be a teachable moment for these institutions to adapt to changing tastes, and find new ways of engaging generations, rather than assume that "the younger generations are not taught to respect history"

Thanks as always for reading!

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