2022 National Census of History Organizations

The 2022 National Census of History Organizations is a first-of-its-kind effort to research the size and scope of the history community in the United States. Funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the “History Census” represents the first national effort to produce a high-quality, up-to-date, comprehensive list of the country’s thousands of history museums, historical societies, and related organizations. This initiative identified 21,588 history organizations in the United States, a number we are confident represents a floor rather than a ceiling. Through our analysis of this data, we have been able to identify some of the fundamental characteristics of our field, assess major strengths and weaknesses, and identify areas for improved practice and further research.

We hope this report will equip history practitioners everywhere with new, high-quality data to support their work, from advocacy to grant proposals to community partnerships. We encourage you to download the report, view our interactive map of more than 21,000 institutions, and share this with your colleagues and coworkers.

The 2022 National Census of History Organizations is the first national effort to produce an up-to-date, comprehensive, and high-quality data file of history, historic preservation, and history-related organizations and historic sites in the public and nonprofit sectors of the United States. This research enabled us to benchmark the basic characteristics of the field, locate strengths and gaps, and compare the subsector to other, related fields. In producing the “History Census,” we have endeavored to uncover trends about our complex field, make information about history organizations more accessible and actionable, and provide data to inform decisions about how to improve the allocation and distribution of resources, training, and services for U.S. history organizations.

The History Census identified 21,588 history organizations in the United States. Our analysis of that data revealed the unique place of history within the arts and culture sector. More specifically, we found:

  • History organizations are ubiquitous in the United States, with a presence in nearly every community around the country. History organizations exist even in places that often are underserved by other arts and culture organizations.
  • Public history operates through a deep and distinct hybrid model, a partnership between government and private nonprofits. This hybridity is a source of strength for the field, but also poses challenges for data collection, comparison, and collaboration across different communities and states.
  • Engagement with and access to history is imbued with a sense of public purpose. All sorts of organizations, from the smallest to the largest, place community and public benefit at the center of their work.
  • Private nonprofit history organizations are overwhelmingly very, very small. Among the nonprofits in our History Census data file, more than 60 percent reported annual revenues of less than $50,000; more than 80 percent reported revenues of less than $200,000; and more than 90 percent reported revenues of less than $1 million.

We hope these findings will be useful for institutions and practitioners across our vast and varied field, informing advocacy, grant proposals, community partnerships and more. Finally, we hope that revisiting this research in several years time will enable us to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming U.S. Semiquincentennial on the size, scope, and distribution of history organizations.

Based on our analysis of the History Census data, our research team developed several recommendations for the field. You can read more about these recommendations on pp. 21–24 of the report.

  1. Explore additional ways to provide focused, tailored support to the nation’s thousands of small history organizations.
  2. Pursue further research about public-private partnerships in state-level history institutions to strengthen sector-wide collaboration.
  3. Educate nonprofit history leaders about the importance of the NTEE classification. Activate them to check and, if necessary, update their organization’s NTEE.
  4. Plan now to revisit the Census in future years and address challenges identified in this report.
  5. Pursue research specifically focused on identifying history organizations in historically marginalized communities to better understand their needs and strengthen their representation in sector-wide analysis.

The research for the 2022 National Census of History Organizations was led by:

  • Carole Rosenstein, PhD, Principal Investigator (George Mason University)
  • Neville Vakharia, Senior Research Analyst (Drexel University)

They were supported by:

  • Rachel Vest, Research Associate
  • Christina Papaniclaou, Research Associate
  • Eric Thornton, Research Assistant
  • Alexandra Mattson, Research Assistant

For AASLH, the project was managed by:

  • John Marks, Director, Public History Research Lab

The map below offers a visualization of the 21,588 organizations identified as part of the 2022 National Census of History Organizations. As we state in the report, “The count should be regarded as conservative….We have a high level of confidence that the counts in this census represent a floor rather than a ceiling in terms of the population of history organizations in the United States.” That means there are many organizations engaged in history work that nevertheless may not appear as part of this visualization. The purpose of this research was to compile the most thorough list of history organizations possible in order to conduct much-needed, field-wide analysis of the public history community in the United States. In practice, this meant our research team had to proceed systematically through tens of thousands of records to make decisions about their inclusion. Without on-the-ground context for each organization, and given the vast differences in the history ecosystem in different states and regions, this required many difficult decisions. An institution’s omission from the visualization below is not a comment on their status as a history organization; rather, it is a reflection of the deep complexity of gathering data about a field so vast and varied. We apologize for such omissions and welcome your help in identifying institutions you believe should have been included so we can improve our process in future research.

For more details about how we built the data file that serves as the foundation for our analysis, please see pp. 24-29 of the report. Please note: records without precise geographic information in our source file have been coded to the center of their respective zip codes.

The 2022 National Census of History Organizations has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Seal of the National Endowment for the Humanities