Announcing the AASLH National Visitation Report

By John Garrison Marks, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH

AASLH is excited today to publish our first-ever National Visitation Report. After surveying more than 1,250 institutions around the country, we can share that visitation to history organizations increased nearly 6 percent over the past several years. From 2013 to 2018, average annual visitation increased 5.7 percent; it rose 7.7 percent from 2013 to 2018, and declined slightly (1.9 percent) from 2017 to 2018. Further, our analysis has revealed that some of the strongest visitation growth occurred at the small history organizations who make up more than half of our field.

To access our full report and download a free summary, visit: learn.aaslh.org/national-visitation-report.

“At local historical societies, national museums, and everywhere in between, historical organizations are making the past more inclusive and relevant to their audiences,” noted John Dichtl, president and CEO of AASLH. “Increased visitation to historic sites and a growing American engagement with history provides a strong foundation to build on as the country looks ahead to its 250th anniversary in 2026.”

Among the findings in the report are:

  • Small institutions reported the strongest gains. Organizations with annual operating budgets of less than $50,000 reported an 18 percent increase in visitation from 2013 to 2018. Those with a budget between $50,000–$250,000 reported a 12.7 percent increase. More than half of the history organizations in the country have annual budgets under $250,000 per year.
  • History museums (10.7 percent), historic sites (10.2 percent), and historic houses (8.8 percent) were the institution types reporting the largest visitation increases.
  • Visitation increased in every major region, with the Mountain Plains leading the way at 19.4 percent.

These findings align with other research suggesting increased American engagement with history. A 2017 survey by the National Endowment for the Arts found that 28 percent of Americans reported visiting a historic site in the previous year, an increase of more than 4 percent since 2012. A 2019 survey by Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Indiana, found that nearly 90 percent of Americans were likely to visit a history museum if it promised to connect them more meaningfully to their past and helped them understand the world today. History sites within the National Park Service, including battlefields, historical parks, and monuments, have also seen their visits increase since earlier in the decade. All of these sources suggest a growing number of Americans have found their way to history organizations in recent years.

This week, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts diving a bit deeper into several aspects of the report, offering a closer look at trends for institutions of different types and sizes; please continue to check this space. We hope this report and the posts that follow offer a useful benchmark for history organizations around the country and provide a foundation for further study. 

Next year’s National Visitation Survey will open in January 2020. Please be on the lookout for our announcement and take the time to respond. The more responses we get, the more representative of our community our data and analysis will be.