Fancy mantle clock, 2018.
history history relevance pragmatic historian

Making History Visible in Surveys

Fancy mantle clock, 2018.
Fancy mantle clock, 2018.

Upon the recommendation of Mike, a history museum colleague of mine, I read George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.” Great book. I highly recommend it.

Now I’m seeing subtle (and not so subtle) frames everywhere. In order to change existing frames, you’ve got to be able to notice them wherever they occur.

I’ve been attempting to make history more visible because of its importance to society, our personal lives, and to a well-functioning democracy. My framing of history as infrastructure is part of that effort.

The other day I took a survey for an organization I am associated with and picked up on a frame that on the surface doesn’t appear to be a frame.

One of the questions on the survey asked me to identify the field in which my organization falls. The possibility presented that most closely matches my work in a history museum is “Arts, Culture and Humanities.”

Can you spot the frame?

Why is “Arts” singled out when it falls within culture and humanities?

Why is “History,” which is easily as large a field as the arts and, indeed, encompasses the arts, not included in that list?

Arts, History, Culture and Humanities.

Can you understand how history has become invisible when it is not specifically mentioned in this tiny way?

For those of us who dutifully fill out surveys, each time we run across the frame of “Arts, Culture and Humanities,” that gets strengthened in our minds and history diminishes. Culture and humanities as frames are so overbroad that they can be difficult to grasp in terms of what they encompass so we don’t mentally bother unless our field doesn’t fit elsewhere. Meanwhile, the arts get strengthened in importance in our minds because they are singled out. (Don’t get me wrong … I love the arts because I am an artist, but I also love history and want it to be just as recognized as the arts.)

In order to adjust this frame, I contacted the organization behind the survey and asked if they could add history to this response option in future surveys.

If you’d like to make history more visible by adjusting our framing of it, start with this simple step: Any time you see “Arts, Culture and Humanities” as a survey response, ask the survey producer to include history in this list of options in the future.

Let’s make history visible!