I think this survey did a great job of helping our subject really begin thinking about how history is intertwined into everything we do. It helped me show my roommate that a lot of what he interacts with on a daily basis has a historical background. My roommate’s view of history was simply a terrible class in high school and nothing but boring facts about events that happened long ago. By participating in this interview, he was able to understand that the field of History has depth and there is a niche for just about everyone. I found it interesting that he found teachers to be the most reputable source of history, which I tend not to agree with. It was really nice to see an in-depth perspective on what history means to someone who isn’t in the major, field, or really even likes it. For the past couple of years now, most of my time has been spent with history majors, so I don’t get to see too much outside perspective. I believe that the biggest change necessary with the questions, is just an update to a few of them. Maybe throw in some more questions relevant to today’s world. Ask more in-depth questions. Ask more about social justice – or lack-thereof. A slight update would make this survey quite good. Overall, though, I thought it did a great job at having interviewees engage and think about how history is interwoven in everything and that it truly is a fascinating subject.
For my oral history, I interviewed Natalie Beckerink, an Auburn student who grew up in various parts of the U.S. but was born in Russia. Beckerink was adopted by American parents at an early age, so I was really interested to see how she understood her place in her parents’ past.
For that reason we ended up spending more time on the questions about her relationship to her family’s history than the others. It was really interesting to hear her talk about finding a sense of community in a shared American history despite not being “genetically American” herself.
From this, I think we can make a few interesting observations about how a person’s perceived past often has a lot more to do with their worldview than it does their DNA. For instance, while Beckerink expressed an interest in finding out more about her biological parents, she was much more concerned about the history of her community and the U.S. than she was with that. Also, Russian history never even came to the conversation. If a lot of far-right-wing theories about genealogy and culture are correct, we would see people like Beckerink place a lot more emphasis on the cultures where they can trace their genealogical heritage. But we don’t see that. Instead, history as a shared understanding of the past seems to be more closely related to upbringing and cultural heritage.
For the survey, I chose a close friend of mine to interview. Currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology, I know that the subject has taken several history classes and is interested in history. This interest gives the interviewee a knowledge base that could contribute to the conversation without being too knowledgeable. Overall, their responses were not surprising. As they live in a small rural environment and the responses reflected the culture of the area they live. When asked about what was important, family history as well as first-hand experiences and oral history. This reflected when asked about the accuracy of historical media. In their responses, they showed fair levels of trust in first-hand experiences, museums, collegiate professors, and academic books, but doubted the other forms.
Overall, the survey was very straightforward and concise. There were areas that promoted further discussion, but some allowed more room for dead ends. This is a common occurrence in broad surveys and not surprising but, in this instance, it did not have much impact on the interview. Even if in another case the conversation did fall flat, I could probably still use the information as that area probably meant less to an individual; which is a data set within itself.
While the survey is good for developing a wide view of individuals’ perceptions of history, one of the things I like about the survey is how it can be easily tailored just by placing emphasis on certain categories or by asking more follow-up questions in a particular section. My biggest concern with the modern use of the survey is the change in time. Since the survey was first published, a lot has changed in the world in regard to the types of available media and how the media is culturally perceived. Specifically, social media and video games. I personally interact with several historical based social media pages and well as play a fair share of historical based video games. The modern “meme” culture also plays an impact on the accessibility, and exposure, to history that many see. If I were running this survey as a member of a historical site or a museum, I would also add follow-up questions about historical sites other than just the occasions that the subject has visited them. These questions could be from the use of technology, the perceptions of “modern” versus traditional experiences, to even something such as perceived relevance of these types of institutions.
Using the Presence of the Past Survey questions, I interviewed my mother who has about an average level of exposure to history. My first impressions were that the survey does well in being clear and concise, but it proved a difficult survey due to the writing of the questions. Usually, questions should give the interviewee the opportunity to speak and carry the question in a way that gives more information, but some of these could be answered with just “no,” halting conversation. This could be more or less problematic depending on who is being interviewed, however. I also found them to be out of date, but with some updating to account for new ways of interacting with history through technology, digital exhibits, etc., the survey could be greatly improved.
Overall, this survey does provide a useful sample of information about how often or in what ways individuals interact with the past. For example, if I use my mother’s answers as an indication of how I should guide an exhibit or even what kinds of historical sites she would most enjoy, I would focus on more modern sites that utilize technology and video rather than just text and objects.
Looking back over the questions and answers I received, I generally found the questions related to the trustworthiness of the past to be the most effective. In this section, one question that could easily be added to help modernize the questions would be, “How trustworthy do you think social media posts on history generally are?” We often see “history” shared through social media sites, regardless of its validity, so this question would provide a good indication of current attitudes towards that. Even though I was not surprised by my mother’s answers, I think in a normal survey situation where I wouldn’t know who I am surveying, these questions can give the best indication of how people perceive history and the most impactful modes of delivery. Everyone learns and interprets differently, so a sample of these questions could provide valuable information on how people think about and internalize the past.
When I began interviewing my roommates about their interactions with the past, it became immediately apparent that there was confusion over the wording of certain questions in the survey. Neither one of them have much experience with history aside from some entry-level college classes taken years ago, and so when asking things like “how connected to the past do you feel on certain holidays,” they were unsure whether to answer related to the historical past or their personal history. While this might have been the point of the exercise, it led to confusion throughout the questionnaire.
The questions could use updating and proofreading, but overall, it succeeded in assessing how much non-historians interact with the past. Adding inquiries related to social media and the internet would provide an even more accurate understanding of how often those who do not study history conceive the past. We live in an increasingly technological world, and while television, movies, and books are still prominent forms of media, most interactions within society revolve around the internet. The wording of the questions could also be tweaked a little in order to make them easily understood by the audience, whether that be through specificity or rewording. Some words were also misspelled throughout the survey, which is a minor thing but one that I noticed nevertheless and wanted to mention. Despite these few flaws, the survey works well to discover what most of the public understands to be “the past,” and I think it functioned as a worthwhile exercise for our class.
I think the Presence of the Past survey from the University of Indiana does a good job of revealing the subject’s general view of history and their frequency of interactions with it. To my brother, history was very personal with “someone who was there” receiving the highest marks for trustworthiness at a nine. Whereas to him history teachers were considered the least reliable, along with TV shows, at a 5. To him history is also material, with his most extensive contact with history being collecting “knives, guns, coin, and records” because they are to him fun and “preserve a piece of the past.” This is probably representative of many young professionals like him who in our materialistic society see ownership and consumption as the best means to interact with history. Additionally, the prizing of eye witness testimony illustrates the general ignorance of the public’s ability effectively evaluate bias in historical sources. His interview further shows the continuation of Americans wanting a history where they can take the lessons “America can do anything it puts it mind to” while critiquing museums for having a “tilt.” Not much has changed since the Enola Gay exhibit in 1995.
Overall, I think this is a good survey, but suffers from being almost thirty years old. There are no questions about the internet, the greatest opportunity and challenge to public history in our current age. Today most individuals would have more interactions with historical content online than many of the sources listed in the survey. Historians are now vying for space in an age of increasing information overload with the public looking to history as a source of fun, individualistic consumerism, when they consider history at all.
During my interview, I noticed a few sections of the survey that may have been a bit outdated. I think the best way to address these issues would to be re-frame the questions to be more applicable to the modern world. What I mean by this is that we should include social media and more electronic medias, especially history based video games. Personally, I play a lot historical games that, while not always particularly accurate, they do, in my opinion, a good job of connecting people with the past.
Furthermore, during the interview, I did notice there were parts that were particularly effective at getting the interviewee to engage with her own experiences with, not only her own personal past, but the collective past. I think if we could expand on the idea of asking about physical interaction with the past we could get a more in-depth look at how people engage with and understand the past. Lastly, I think the demographics section could be more in-depth so that we can better understand how different socio-economic groups engage with the past.
I would say that both my first and most memorable experience with public history is touring the Alabama in Mobile Bay when I was six or seven. Battleships are genuinely ludicrous objects. They’re enormous, especially to a kid, and look like nothing else; an amazing artifact of both a very specific time and a weird kind of personification of the American spirit. There’s a sort of religious reverence to the whole deal.
I remembered around six years old, I visited the Palace Museum in Beijing, it was the first time I think I have the idea of “this is my history, and this is our past.” It is my first public history experience.
My exposure to history stretches as far back as I can remember. From my elementary school days in history class writing papers and giving presentations, I felt myself engaged with what came before and always tried to interact with it. One of the most fundamental experiences was during my trip to Houston for Junior Olympics when I forcibly drug my parents to Space Center Houston. It was one of the first times I really interacted first hand with the History of Science.