Presence of the Past, Surveying my Mom

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 I also found them to be out of date, but with some updating to account for new ways of interacting with history through technology, digital exhibits, etc., the survey could be greatly improved.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.

One Comment

  1. I agree, these questions seem markedly outdated now. I think the kind of question you came up with for updating would work well and I wonder how dramatically it might change the responses.

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