Readers Generally Pleased with Perspectives on History, Survey Reveals

Pillarisetti Sudhir, November 2008

An online survey conducted in May-June 2008 of readers of Perspectives of History and of Perspectives Online indicates that on the whole, our readers are generally happy with the appearance, content, and balance (between Association news and features) of the print and web versions of AHA’s newsmagazine. More than 10 percent—1,306, to be exact—of the members who had been requested to participate in the survey (through an e-mail sent to all members who have signed up to receive electronic communications from the Association) carefully and diligently completed the online questionnaire. A large number of the respondents also took the time to answer the open-ended questions with thoughtful suggestions and comments. We are grateful to everyone who responded to the survey and who will thus help to contribute to the further refinement and development of Perspectives on History. In the coming months we hope to act upon many of the suggestions made and respond in useful ways to the constructive criticism that was offered. We present below a brief summary of the results of the survey as well as selected responses to the open-ended questions. More detailed data and all the narrative responses can be seen at downloaded in a PDF copy.

Interestingly, nearly 28 percent of the respondents had been members of the AHA for 10-25 years, and a significant 19 percent had been members for 25 years or more, suggesting a deep and abiding interest among long-standing members in ensuring that they have a say in how their magazine shapes up in the years to come. Not surprisingly, the employment status of the respondents hewed closely to the profile of AHA members, with more than 50 percent of the respondents indicating that they held positions in four-year colleges or universities.

The vast majority—64 percent—of the respondents read only the print version of Perspectives on History, they stated, while 33 percent stated that they read both the print version and the electronic version, Perspectives Online. Rather surprisingly, only a very small number (25—that is, 1.8 percent) indicated that they read only the online magazine, while 1.4 percent declared that they did not read either version, suggesting that not everyone likes the monthly magazine enough, although it could be merely the lack of time.

But then, those who do read the print version are quick off the mark, it seems, 35.7 percent indicating that they read an issue as soon as it arrives, and another 43.1 percent getting to it within two weeks. On average, 55.3 percent of the respondents said that they read more than half of the articles and features in each issue, but apparently don’t usually take very long to do so, as nearly 73 percent said that they spend about an hour or less reading any given issue. About 26 percent spend more time with their copies, taking two to three hours.

Perhaps with the intention of getting to them later on, a large number of the respondents (30.1 percent) said that they preserve every issue, although a slightly larger proportion (31.8 percent) declared that they do not retain any issues. Another large group kept either special issues or copies of specific articles. The figures suggest, however, that readers cling to their own copies quite tenaciously, as 80.4 percent declared that they do not share their copies with anyone else.

Why do all these people read Perspectives on History? The primary reason, 87.2 percent tell us, is to keep up with current developments in the discipline, and 73.1 percent read the newsmagazine for professional development, and 58.4 percent use it for learning about new teaching methods, all three groups implicitly acknowledging that the newsmagazine does a reasonably good job of helping them to do achieve their objectives. A significant number (59.6 percent look for biographical information about other historians. Unsurprisingly, 53.3 percent read the magazine for the job listings.

Responding to the all-important question about their level of satisfaction with various aspects of Perspectives on History, most respondents checked off the “Good” category (the highest being “Excellent” on a five-level scale) on such dimensions as content, writing quality, and coverage of the profession. Content was rated very high, with 78.6 percent ranking it as good or excellent. Writing quality received an even better ranking with 82.4 percent deeming it good or excellent.

A large majority (70.7 percent) of the respondents indicated a clear satisfaction with the current balance between news and information about the Association on the one hand and the general features on the other; but 52.4 percent of those who expressed dissatisfaction with the current balance did indicate that they would like to see more space allocated to articles that are not related to the AHA.

What kinds of articles? A large proportion (62.8 percent) of all respondents wanted to see more articles on professional issues, and 52.9 percent voted for articles on teaching. Since the respondents could choose more than one category, more than a quarter also voted for more articles on films and a similar number asked for more features on technology.

The responses to the various questions relating to Perspectives Online suggest that, in general, those who read the online journal do so for reasons that are similar to those that motivate the readers of Perspectives on History. It is instructive, however, to learn that many readers like the online version for the convenience and searchability, and use it “as needed,” and that many read articles only online (that is without printing them out). Surprisingly, 34.9 percent of those who read Perspectives Online did not want it to publish articles written exclusively for the online journal (that is those not previously printed in Perspectives on History). On the other hand, 46.6 percent indicated that they might consider writing articles that may be published only online.

The survey contained several open-ended questions seeking suggestions for improvement of the newsmagazine. The following section contains a small selection of the numerous responses. As mentioned above, all the responses are available in a PDF.

—PS

Sample Responses to Open-Ended Questions

  • I recommend putting in textbook reviews in and “state of the field” articles written for nonspecialists.
  • More articles about the process of doing history (i.e., first-person accounts of archive trouble or writer’s block)
  • [I would like to see] continuing coverage of issues of race and gender—hiring, pay disparities, graduate student retention, etc.
  • Departmental profiles or profiles of other workplaces where historians are found. Perhaps more on teaching overseas.
  • Lists of books (and of those received for review by AHR).
  • I would like to see something that alerts you to historical exhibits, conferences, etc.
  • Historiographical trends
  • Some sort of personal feature that would allow members to share an opinion on some sort of discipline related issue—“From My Perspective.”
  • A guest column authored by a notable from another field such as politics, government, sociology, science, . . . , etc. about how history has affected their field and their lives and how they see the history’s value to American life. There was a great article in the Chronicle of Higher Education . . . on what they didn’t teach you in graduate school. As a graduate student, I would love similar advice from Perspectives on History.
  • Greater coverage of high school teaching of history with idea of greater awareness of possibilities and importance of this area of teaching and recognition of good work done in many schools.
  • More news coverage

—PS