We need a more productive public conversation about history.
Amid ongoing national controversy, it is more important than ever for the history community to be able to clearly explain what history is, how we come to understand the past, and why it matters to society. Reframing History provides the field with a new set of evidence-backed recommendations for communicating about history.
Funded by the Mellon Foundation and carried out in partnership with the FrameWorks Institute, National Council on Public History, and Organization of American Historians, Reframing History is the result of a two-year, deep-dive research effort to understand how Americans think about history and how our field can more effectively explain history’s value. The recommendations from this project are designed to help historians, educators, museum professionals, and history advocates to be able to more cohesively and convincingly communicate about history to build a wider understanding of what inclusive history looks like and why it is important for all of us.
Despite the best efforts of the field, much of the public still assumes making sense of the past is about finding a single objective truth, about documenting “just the facts.” To more effectively explain why history matters, we must shift the conversation about history to emphasize critical engagement with the past and the incorporation of new evidence and diverse perspectives. Reframing History—through a report, toolkit, and forthcoming training resources—provides specific, flexible strategies for achieving that shift, overcoming major communication challenges, and building a more widely shared understanding of the importance of learning from the past.
Reframing History is funded through a grant from the Mellon Foundation.
Throughout 2022, we will host discussions of Reframing History to deepen engagement with its ideas and help the field consider its wide-ranging implications. The first such discussion occurred at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on February 26, 2022 with speakers Clint Smith (TheAtlantic), Martha S. Jones (Johns Hopkins University) and Jorge Zamanillo (HistoryMiami and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino). View the recording below.
To extend the conversation about Reframing History and the challenges we face when communicating with the public, we have created the Reframing History Podcast. Hosted by Christy Coleman (Executive Director, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation) and Jason Steinhauer (Wilson Center Global Fellow and author of History Disrupted) this six-episode, limited series features conversations with scholars, interpreters, researchers, and public historians from across the country to help us think about how we talk about history and how a more strategic approach can strengthen our impact. Episodes were released weekly from March to May in 2022 and remain available below and wherever you get your podcasts.
Episode 6: “Now What? Using the Reframing History Report and Toolkit”
with Jennifer Ortiz, Steve Murray, and John Marks (May 4) – Download transcript
Episode 5: “The New Civics”
with Eric Liu, Melanie Adams, and Caroline Klibanoff (April 27) – Download transcript
Episode 4: “Communicating the Value of History”
with Niya Bates, Susan Ferentinos, and Estevan Rael-Galvez (April 20) – Download transcript
Episode 3: “Making Progress Towards Justice”
with Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Heather Bruegl (April 13) – Download transcript
Episode 2: “The Case of the Misunderstood Historical Method” with William Convery, Stacey Watson, and Sam Wineburg (April 6) – Download transcript
Episode 1: “When I Say History…” with Lacey Wilson, John R. Dichtl, and Theresa L. Miller (March 30) – Download transcript
To help professionals and volunteers across the history community make use of these findings, we will be producing a wide-ranging set of training resources in the coming year, including webinars, workshops, and online courses. Watch this space for more information.
Reframing History Toolkit
Our first resource is the Reframing History Toolkit. Built on the research and recommendations in the Report, the Toolkit is designed to make it easy to incorporate our research-tested framing strategies into your work. For communicating about history, consistency is key: this toolkit will help like-minded advocates all speak the same language. It contains several helpful tools, including:
Common communication traps, and how to avoid them
A “bridge-and-pivot” guide for getting conversations back on track