Public History

History museums and historical societies in the United States.

By Elizabeth Della Zazzera

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

There are twenty-four history museums and historical societies in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Even within the confines of downtown, a visitor could peruse the stately home of a nineteenth-century shipping merchant or the much more modest home of an eighteenth-century furniture maker. There are museums dedicated to the history of Charleston, of South Carolina, and of dentistry. And in 2020, the city that once imported and sold more enslaved people than any other city in the United States will be the site of the International African American Museum.

Across the country, museums explore the histories of all kinds of things—states, local communities, religious sects, music, steam engines, the Tuskegee Airmen.

The proliferation of museums of all sizes means that in the United States, one is never very far from history: the average distance between two history museums is only 2.6 miles. Because there tend to be more museums in cities than in rural areas, the “history museum density” of the country is one museum for every 147 square miles (an area about the size of Fayetteville, North Carolina).

full screen

This map displays almost 26,000 museums, historical societies, and historic preservation associations in the United States. The dataset, compiled by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is available publicly via Enigma.

Find an error? Is your favorite museum missing? Let us know.

For more on museums both small and large, see History in WaxThe Haunting of a Heights HouseHouse Hunters, and House Museums.