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Trial by Fire: The New Future of History Nonprofits

by Hannah Hethmon, AASLH on

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (HI) project just released a detailed report on Not-for-Profit History Organizations and Their Revenues from 1989-2012. Among the findings, HI found that:

  • The number of history organizations rose steadily from 1989 to 2004, though their revenues rose much more unevenly…
  • The median age…of history organizations in 2012 was 29 years- substantially older than the median of 25 years for all not-for-profit humanities organization types considered together.

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Humanities Indicators asked AASLH CEO John Dichtl to explain what these numbers say about the vitality of historical organizations:

  • …historical organizations are ubiquitous but unfortunately only modestly resourced.
  • …19,505 [museums in the US] are categorized as “History Museums,” “Historical Societies,” “Historic Preservation,” or “Historical House and Sites.”
  • The tide of historical organizations has slowly been rising, despite the lack of revenue to go around.

Dichtl goes on to discuss how “the crucible of the ‘Great Recession'” has forced all history organizations to reevaluate their roles in society and work harder than ever to be relevant to their audiences:

  • They are working across disciplines on programming and education, collaborating with artists, offering spaces for civic conversations and literacy programs, providing major resources for K-12 educators, engaging with community groups on social justice projects, and tying their ventures to economic development projects…To see how revenues and other numbers have changed for humanities organizations over time is indeed useful, but the real story is in what we are becoming as organizations right now.

You can read the rest of Dichtl’s commentary on the report here. The full report from Humanities Indicators is available here.

 

 

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