History Matters! A Campaign for America
Education - Advocacy - Preservation
Draft June 26, 2011
Historical consciousness and sense of place are the basis of civic attachment, national pride and
citizenship. History Matters! aims to increase and improve those qualities in American life.
To foster a strong, vital, and compelling role for American history in public life by: improving
the quality and quantity of secondary school instruction; providing additional resources for the
organizations (small and large) that preserve and present our national patrimony; and increasing
student engagement through experiential learning based on the use of local resources that are
abundant, often excellent, always useful and EVERYWHERE.
The United States was world's first new nation: the first nation founded on a shared commitment
to fundamental principles and ideals and the revolutionary idea that government is by and for the
people. Our country isn’t just a place, it is an idea that depends on a citizenry aware of and
engaged with our journey of freedom. The idea of America is a beacon that inspires the world.
The United States attracts immigration because those seeking to better themselves believe in the
illimitable possibilities of the American narrative. Our nation has been a fountain of innovation,
ingenuity, free enterprise and creative expression. Freedom has enabled prosperity, human
dignity and greater opportunity for self-fulfillment. It cannot and does not maintain itself by
The United States is bound together by a mission statement. Freedom and self-government
depend as much now on an informed, engaged, educated and virtuous citizenry as when the
Founding Fathers first envisioned it.
Today, the American Idea - the notion that our national experience is embodied in and inspired
by unifying values, ideals and responsibilities - is at risk. Despite that no nation is more
dependent on a citizenry inspired by its values and engaged with its operation, we are
experiencing an epidemic of historical illiteracy that is both unprecedented and dangerous. The
American Idea is increasingly abandoned and rejected at home. History, social studies and civics
have been marginalized in secondary school curriculums across the country. Leisure and travel
lean more toward the exotic than the patriotic. Mobility and homogenization have decimated our
sense of place and civic attachment. There is a confusion and ignorance about some of the core
ideas and values inherent in our nation’s founding. Our literature, art and popular culture to
rarely speak to American values. Our politics are increasingly strident, polarized, oppositional
The solution is to instill a deeper sense of place, past and civic reverence by reinvigorating the
presence of History – local and national, political and social – in the classroom and in our
popular culture. We must strengthen interest in American ideas by inspiring one another to
discover the places, things and destinations - both local and national - where American ideas and
accomplishments can be experienced in their richness and specificity. Visit Gettysburg and the
Smithsonian. But also visit your local historical museum. Visit Yosemite and the Grand Canyon,
but discover the natural treasures in your own back yard.
America is still exploding with innovators and idealists. Young people want our country to
matter – to revitalize America – an idea many cherish and realize is being degraded by a culture
awash in celebrities, consumerism, and infatuation with the exotic and attractive distractions.
Dismal results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress report (2010 NAEP)
suggest that only about 12% of our high-school students have a "firm grasp" of U.S. history. We
are engulfed by a virulent strain of presentism that is harmful to our culture, economy, politics
and values. It has reduced the value of history to entertainment, marginalized it from the
curriculum, rejects American exceptionalism and ultimately compromises our ability to foster
critical thinking, civic attachment and patriotism.
Why history matters: History is context. Context is how we understand the challenges we face
both in relation to what’s happening around us and by the paths and patterns that bring us to the
present. History is the basis of the ability to think, grapple, compare and contrast, critique and
understand anything – from science and math to language arts and economics. Our
American system of self-government depends on this capability among its citizens.
In the fundamental value of The American Idea.
In experiential learning.
In material culture and learning that draws from a wide array of human experience
That history is about more than wars, politics and great men.
That history is both national and local and that enormous value can be found in
connecting learning with the content and opportunities close at hand
In the interdependence of historic consciousness, sense of place and civic attachment
In the value of art, architecture and artifacts to convey meaning and inspire reverence
That American History Matters!
Advocate for philanthropic action to reinvigorate the climate of reverence for the values,
ideals, and traditions that have made this country an engine of prosperity and a beacon of
Articulate and promote an affirmative vision why our history and national values matter
Nurture, develop and inspire a next generation of history teachers, museologists,
preservationists and museum goers.
Recruit leaders in politics, entertainment, business and academia to embrace and speak on
behalf of History Matters
Acknowledge excellence in teaching history
Acknowledge service to community and country through excellence in presenting
Acknowledge service to community and country through excellence in preserving
What Others Are Saying:
In a recent article “Don't Know Much About History “ (Wall Street Journal, June 2011)
historian David McCullough says textbooks have become “so politically correct as to be comic.
Meanwhile, the likes of Thomas Edison get little attention.” "I know how much these young
people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don't know." "It's shocking."
“We've been teaching history poorly.”
Mr. McCullough wants us to mend our ways. "History is a source of strength," he says. "It sets
higher standards for all of us." Assuring that the next generation measures up “will be a daunting
task,” he observes. ”The great teachers love what they're teaching.” But “you can't love
something you don't know any more than you can love someone you don't know." Another
problem, he notes, is method: "History is often taught in categories—women's history, African
American history, environmental history—so that many of the students have no sense of
chronology. They have no idea what followed what."
Finally, McCullough concludes: "We should take our children to historic places. Go to
Gettysburg. Go to the Capitol." “And teach history,” he says, with "the lab technique” by giving
students “a problem to work on.”
In “The Education Our Economy Needs” Norman Augustine, former Chairman of Martin
Marietta and the Red Cross whose trusteeships include MIT and Colonial Williamsburg, declares
that “historical illiteracy hurts our politics and our businesses,” and notes that “history is ….the
subject in which students perform the most poorly. It's a result that puts American employers and
America's freedoms in a worrisome spot.” History imparts “critical thinking, research skills, and
the ability to communicate clearly and cogently….. Far more than simply conveying the story of
a country or civilization, an education in history can create critical thinkers who can digest,
analyze and synthesize information and articulate their findings. These are skills needed across a
broad range of subjects and disciplines.”
According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s first review of the State of State U.S. History
Standards 2011, a majority of states’ standards are mediocre-to-awful and 18 earn F’s including
five of the original 13 colonies (Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North
Carolina) and two additional New England States (Maine & Vermont). The report cites mounting
evidence that American education is creating a generation of students who don’t understand or
value our own nation’s history.
History Matters agrees and believes there is urgency in recalibrating our sense of national
narrative by restoring history to its rightful place at the heart of the learning experience and
encouraging one another to visit, preserve, discover, collect and embrace the art, architecture and
material evidence of our exceptional nation.
Articulate the essentialness of history to a complete and balanced life
Articulate the essentialness of history as a basis for civics and community attachment
Increase appreciation and awareness of historic sites, Americana and material culture as
touchstones for experiential learning
Create an open source community that grapples with the problems, prospects and
possibilities for enlarged and enlivened historical consciousness
Create a web-based clearing house for institutions, blogs and information resources
needed to elevate and enliven reflection about American history and values
Rekindle a sense of reverence and respect for The American Idea
Advocate against bias and for procedural reforms at leading humanities foundations and
Inspire new foundations and additional foundation funding to become involved in
preserving, protecting and promoting American history, values and ideas
Media campaign to create a sense of urgency about the declining knowledge of American
Social Media Campaign: “History Matters” blog, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts and video
clips & Powerpoints on YouTube
Publication & Print Media advocacy: AFA theme issue, Preservation, National Trust
Forum, Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian Travel, American Spirit, Chronicle of Higher
Education, Chronicle of Philanthropy, History News, Chipstone, Antiques.
Develop & Deliver History Matters powerpoint at various conferences including: TED, National
Humanities Conference, National Council for Social Studies, American Assoc for State & Local
History conference, National Trust conference, DAR Congress, etc
Inspire political, business and entertainment leaders in rekindling understanding and engagement
with the American idea
Conferences: History Matters Philanthropy Summit; History Matters stakeholders
conference– involving journalists, historians, film-makers, museologists, politicians,
artists, preservationists, teachers and more; Special focus symposia and collaborations
Identify and promote pedagogical tools, best practices and model lesson plans and role
model teacher profiles for secondary schools
William Hosley, Ed Hood, Johanna McBrien, Alexandra Rollins, Catherine Zusy
Prospective Honorary Chair(s):
Prospective Institutional Affiliates:
About the Project Team:
William Hosley, the principal of Terra Firma Northeast, is an independent scholar, cultural
resource consultant, planner, writer, and photographer. He was formerly Director of the New
Haven Museum and Connecticut Landmarks where he cared for a chain of historic attractions
throughout Connecticut. Prior to that, as a curator and exhibition developer at Wadsworth
Atheneum, Bill organized major exhibitions including The Great River: Art & Society of the
Connecticut Valley (1985) and Sam & Elizabeth: Legend and Legacy of Colt's Empire (1996). As
an expert in material culture and heritage tourism, Bill has studied, lectured at and/or advised
hundreds of museums and heritage destinations around the country and has been a content advise
for CPTV, PBS and BBC documentaries.
Johanna McBrien –
Johanna McBrien is current and founding editor-in-chief of Antiques & Fine Art Magazine. Her
thirty-year career path encompasses museums, academia, the antiques market, the Internet,
publishing, educational programming, and management. Her skills include communications,
marketing and business acumen, creative innovation, and historical training and vision. She is a
Governor of the Decorative Arts Trust; on the board and collections committee of Gore Place;
sits on the National Council of Historic New England; is a member of the National Counsel and
collections committee at Strawbery Banke Museum; is on the board of the Society of Winterthur
Fellows; and is the Antiques & Art Circle leader for Gozaic.com, the historic travel website for
the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is a founding board member of the Alliance for
Art & Antiques.
Alexandra Rollins, specializes in the management of art collections and historic properties. She
is the principal of Alexandra Rollins Associates. Her expertise includes governance, strategic
and business planning, and grants management. Ms. Rollins was the first curator for the Dietrich
American Foundation and served in that capacity for 10 years, managing what was then the
largest and best privately-held collection of American fine and decorative arts. She was the editor
and project manager for the publication of the collection catalogue, Treasures of State: Fine and
Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the United States Department of State
and, during the 5-year project, oversaw the conservation of the collection while facilitating the
acquisition of over 40 masterpieces of American art. As ex officio curator for The National
Society of The Colonial Dames of America for three years, she assessed each of their 62 historic
properties, advising their staffs and boards on conservation, collections, preservation, and
database development, while overseeing the publication of the issue of The Magazine Antiques
[July 2007] dedicated to those collections. Ms. Rollins holds a BA in art history from
Connecticut College, an MA in material culture and museum administration from the University
of Pennsylvania, and an MPA in public/private finance from the Kennedy School of Government
at Harvard University.