The Humanities in American Life: Insights for History
- Watching shows with historical content is the most popular form of engagement with the humanities (as 83% of adults watch them sometimes or more often).
- Researching history topics online is second in popularity only to watching history shows (as 32% do so often, and 37% do so sometimes).
- Watching shows with historical content has only a weak relationship to most other forms of humanities engagement, including researching history subjects online, visiting historic sites, and reading nonfiction.
- Unlike every other humanities activity included in the survey, history show watching attracts a larger share of men than women. While 50% of men often watch shows with historical content, only 42% of women do so.
- Frequent history-related outings are more common among those with college degrees, as well as those with higher levels of income.
- Among the humanities disciplines, the term history is particularly popular, as 48% of Americans view it very favorably (which is similar to the share for science, 52%).
- Unlike other humanities disciplines, self-identified political liberals and conservatives are similar in their enthusiasm for history, as approximately 55% of each group have a favorable impression of the term.
In Childhood and Education
- While 27% of Americans recall seeing their parents often discuss the history of the nation or the world, more adults (37%) remember their parents rarely or never engaging in such conversations.
- 85% of Americans feel that teaching American history to children is important, and 80% believe the same for world history.
- A third of Americans who believe American history should be taught in the schools also believe that elementary school is too early for children to learn the subject. Over half of adults feel the same about world history and cultures.
- White Americans are more likely to consider the teaching of American history to young people important than Black, Hispanic, or Asian Americans.
- Conservative Americans are somewhat more likely than liberals and moderates to value the teaching of American history to youth. Roughly equal shares of conservatives and liberals support the teaching of world history.
- While 86% of college graduates feel instruction in world history is important for young people, only 74% of Americans with a high school education or less share this view.
- 35% of adults wish they had studied more world history in the course of their educations, and 32% felt the same about American history. (Looking at history generally, 43% of Americans wish they had taken more courses in American and/or world history.)
- Unique among humanities subjects, conservatives are considerably more likely than those with other political orientations to wish they had taken more classes in American history. While 44% of conservatives wish they had taken more courses in American history, only about 30% of liberals and moderates felt the same.
- Nearly half of Americans think that historical research and applying a historical perspective is unnecessary for their job.
- 17% of Americans believe a deficiency in their capacities with historical research and perspective hampered them in their job.
These findings capture only a small slice of the larger study. Visit https://bit.ly/HumSurvey for the full report of the survey findings, including responses to questions about the humanities as a whole, visualizations comparing history to the other subjects, and a detailed summary of the responses to every question by gender, age, and other key demographics.
A Guide to Interpreting These Findings
The findings described here are based on a sample of Americans, weighted to produce estimates for the US adult population as a whole. The reported values are estimates and thus have a measure of error (also an estimate) associated with them.
By virtue of the error associated with each estimate (either for the entire adult population or a particular demographic group), observed differences between them may be due to the sample that happened to be drawn for this survey rather than a difference between the actual values in the adult population, which could be known only if a census were conducted. For this reason, only differences between estimates that were found to be statistically significant at the 5% level are noted.
Statistical significance gauges the reliability of an observed difference between two estimates. It indicates how certain one can be that the difference between the two values could actually be found in the adult population and is not due to chance (i.e., not due to the particular sample of adults that was surveyed as part of the study). If a difference between two groups (e.g., Asian and White Americans, or Asian Americans and the entire adult population) is significant at the 5% level, it means that if there really were really no difference between the two groups, a difference as large or larger than the one observed in our sample would be found only 5% of the time.