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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Top Ten Survey, Surprises

I’ve already written two posts looking at the results of the Top Ten Events in Montana History Survey that eighty readers took last December: Top Ten Survey Results and Survey Results, Part 2.

But I’ve had such a fun time looking at the results, I wanted to talk about them a little bit more, especially about what I found surprising in the results. So—in no particular order, here’s what surprised me:

1. That there wasn’t more consensus—we were all over the board on what we thought was important.

2. That not only did Indian boarding schools not make it into our collective top ten, they didn’t even make it into the top 30.

  • To my mind, the boarding schools’ long term impact has been astounding, particularly in terms of language loss. So it was interesting to me that I was one of only 15 people who put boarding schools in my top 10.
3. That the Great Depression didn’t rank higher.

  • This might have been because I called it the Great Depression, instead of the New Deal, or because I gave 1920s drought, rural electrification, dams, and the Indian Reorganization Act their own categories. But it was the Great Depression/New Deal that paved Montana’s roads, built the Fort Peck Dam, revitalized Montana’s labor movement, initiated farm subsidies and social security, grew state government, and increased the role of the federal government in Montana. So how could it only have garnered 22 votes?
4. How little the twentieth century seemed to matter, according to this survey. The Homestead Boom and the 1972 Constitution were the only two twentieth century events that made it into our collective top ten.

  • I don’t think that Montana today would be recognizable to Montanans from 1899. The corollary is that there must have been major twentieth century events that transformed the state. But for the most part, we focused on the 18th and 19th centuries. This might have been a flaw in the survey. It was awfully long, and if you were like me, you probably had already chosen most of your top tens before hitting 1900. And, if you were like me, you probably didn’t want to go back and change anything. Alternately, it might be that we gravitate toward what we know, and we mostly teach 19th century history when we teach about Montana.
5. That Indian history made the top ten (with negotiations of treaties, introduction of the horse, and destruction of the bison), but no specifically Indian issue made the top five.

  • Why is that surprising to me? Well, from 12,000 years ago to 1805, Montana was entirely populated by native peoples. And from 1805-1855, it mostly was. On the other hand, perhaps this was another flaw in the survey. I’m guessing that people chose one issue to stand in for a number of issues so as to save slots—and that this split the vote. For example, I selected diseases for my top ten list---but I left off the introduction of the horse (which was equally important, to my mind). Instead, I used “disease” to stand in for the Columbian exchange generally. If I had taken the survey ten minutes later, I probably would have chosen horses and ignored disease. Ditto, treaties, creation of reservations, etc.
How were you surprised?

P.S. To learn more about the survey itself, see this initial post.

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