History's Hierarchy of Purpose infographic by Mary Warner, 2017.
history pragmatic historian

History’s Hierarchy of Purpose – An Infographic

When you’ve been in the history field for 20+ years, you develop ideas about history’s larger context and how it works in both the history field and society. When you get several long-term historians together for discussion (as has happened for 2 years now at the Minnesota History Whatever), those ideas become more cohesive. That’s what bouncing thoughts off of numerous knowledgeable folks does (aside from keeping us super-entertained in a field where we love discussing bigger ideas but rarely get the opportunity to do so).

Those of us in history museums, just one part of the History Enterprise, are continually concerned about how we can connect more people to their history. This isn’t merely about making sure our organizations remain viable; public historians sincerely believe that history can enhance people’s lives in numerous ways.

Through ongoing conversations within the field, plus some focused conversations with two particular people – David Grabitske and Ann Marie Johnson – I developed an infographic showing History’s Hierarchy of Purpose.

History's Hierarchy of Purpose infographic by Mary Warner, 2017.
History’s Hierarchy of Purpose infographic by Mary Warner, 2017.

Yes, that’s a hand-drawn , funky-shaped triangle because, as a lifelong artist, I believe people respond on a visceral level with handmade things, however, after scanning the image to digitize it, I used digitally-produced text because I don’t believe in torturing you with my handwriting.

(My husband noted that, if I add a spout, this would make a good design for a teapot, which I heartily agree with. Yet another interesting use of history … as inspiration for creativity, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Note that the base of the triangle, “Resource Location & Preservation,” has a long tail that runs up along the left side of the triangle. That’s because Resource Location & Preservation are encompassed within and necessary to the other purposes of history, including, in ascending order, Education & Entertainment, Connection & Empathy, Critical Thinking & Context, and Using the Past to Shape the Future.

Each of these purposes deserves its own explanation, which I will do over several blog posts.

What do you see is the purpose of history?


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