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Indicator V-13 Historic Site Visits
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Updated (8/24/2012) with data for 2008.

Historic site visitation is another important form of public engagement with the humanities. In an effort to assess rates of such visitation, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) asked respondents to its Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) the following question: "Did you [in the past year] visit an historic park or monument, or tour buildings or neighborhoods for their historic or design value?" The data indicate that the percentage of people answering yes to this question declined incrementally over the 1982–2008 time period (Figure V-13a). According to SPPA, in 2002, 32% of Americans 18 and older had visited a historic site in the previous year, down almost six percentage points from the early 1980s. From 2002 to 2008 the decline continued but was more pronounced, with the visitation rate dropping to approximately 25%. Looking over the entire 26-year period, the rate of visitation decreased by a third.

Figure V-13a, Full Size
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This decline was most heavily concentrated in the 25-to-44-year-old population—an age group that includes many parents of young and adolescent children. However, because no reliable national data on children's visits to historic sites currently exist, establishing whether a corresponding decline occurred in the percentage of children who visited historic sites is not possible.

Over time, differences between age groups with respect to rates of historic site visitation have decreased. For example, in 1982, the rate of visitation among 25-to-34-year-olds, the group most likely to visit a historic site, was approximately 11 percentage points higher than that of the youngest age group, the 18-to-24-year olds, and more than 17 points higher than that of people ages 65 to 74, those least likely to have visited a historic site (with the exception of those age 75 and older, who in every year NEA has surveyed Americans about their visitation behavior have had substantially lower rates than any other age group).1 By 2008, the differentials were only four and two percentage points. In 2008, the age group most likely to have visited a historic site was the 45-to-54-year-olds, but their visitation rate was only six points higher than that of 18-to-24-year-olds, the group least likely to visit.

The relationship between age and historic site visitation can be thought of as a combination of two distinct phenomena. The first of these, known as the “cohort” effect, refers to the effect of people’s generation on their tendency to visit historic sites. The other effect is that of a person’s age on his or her visitation (the “age” effect).

Figure V-13b presents the SPPA data in a way that makes the relative influence of these phenomena more apparent. The figure reveals that a cohort effect is at work to some extent. For example, those Americans born 1938–1947 had a 45% likelihood of having visited a historic site in the previous 12 months when they were in their mid-30s to mid-40s (ages 35–44), while those who were born 1958–1967 had only a 36% likelihood of having done so when they were the same age. The figure also makes obvious that as people age they are less likely to visit a historic site, although the data suggest that the drop-off is occurring later in life for more recent birth cohorts.

Figure V-13b, Full Size
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Measuring historic site visitation in the way that SPPA does is one of two possible means of gauging the extent to which Americans make use of the nation's historical resources. Another approach is to seek visitation data not from individuals ("Did you visit a historic site last year?") but from the sites they visit ("How many people visited this site last year?"). No organization or individual researcher has yet produced a reliable estimate of total visitation for U.S. historic sites, but information on levels of visitation to National Park Service (NPS) historic sites and monuments are available for years 1975–present. The NPS reports that visitation to its historic sites rose from approximately 90.1 million in 2002 to 96.0 million in 2008.2 These data describe the number of visits to historic sites, not the number of people who visited. Because a single person can make multiple visits to historical destinations, site visitation levels will always exceed the number of individuals who visited the sites in any given year. Also, such data capture visits made by people from other nations and do not take into account the growth of the growth of the U.S. population over the six-year period. As a result of these two sets of issues, these data reveal only a hint about American's embrace of their historical resources, although they do speak to the demands made of such sites' physical infrastructure and staff.

(Other history-related items in the Humanities Indicators include Indicator I-3, Knowledge of U.S. History, and Indicator I-9, Qualifications of Humanities Teachers.)

1 In only a few cases were the differences between age groups statistically significant (at the 95% level). For an explanation of the concept of statistical significance, see

2 Calculated using the online data tools available at Included in the NPS visitation counts provided here are visits to what NPS terms “national historic sites,” “national historical parks,” “national battlefields,” “national battlefield parks,” “national military parks,” “national monuments,” and “national memorials.”

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