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Heritage interpretation

Heritage interpretation

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Heritage interpretation is the communication of information about, or the explanation of, the nature, origin, and purpose of historical, natural, or cultural resources, objects, sites and phenomena using personal or non-personal methods.

Heritage interpretation may be performed at dedicated interpretation centres or at museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

s, historic sites, parks, art galleries, nature centres, zoos, aquaria
Aquaria may refer to:*Aquarium, in the plural*Aquaria , a computer game*Aquaria , a Brazilian metal band*Aquaria, one of the Twelve Colonies in Battlestar Galactica...

, botanical gardens, nature reserves and a host of other heritage sites. Its modalities can be extremely varied and may include guided walks, talks, drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

, staffed stations, displays, signs, labels, artwork, brochures, interactives, audio-guides and audio-visual media. The process of developing a structured approach to interpreting these stories, messages and information is called interpretive planning
Interpretive planning
Interpretive planning is an initial step in the planning and design process for informal learning-based institutions like museums, zoos, science centers, nature centers, botanical gardens, heritage sites, parks and other cultural facilities where interpretation is used to communicate messages,...


Those who practice this form of interpretation
Interpretation (logic)
An interpretation is an assignment of meaning to the symbols of a formal language. Many formal languages used in mathematics, logic, and theoretical computer science are defined in solely syntactic terms, and as such do not have any meaning until they are given some interpretation...

 may include rangers
Park ranger
A park ranger or forest ranger is a person entrusted with protecting and preserving parklands – national, state, provincial, or local parks. Different countries use different names for the position. Ranger is the favored term in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Within the United...

, guide
A guide is a person who leads anyone through unknown or unmapped country. This includes a guide of the real world , as well as a person who leads someone to more abstract places .-Guide - meanings related to travel and recreational pursuits:There are many variants of...

s, naturalists
Natural history
Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, leaning more towards observational rather than experimental methods of study, and encompasses more research published in magazines than in academic journals. Grouped among the natural sciences, natural history is the systematic study...

, museum curators, natural and cultural interpretive specialists, interpretation officers, heritage communicators, docent
Docent is a title at some European universities to denote a specific academic appointment within a set structure of academic ranks below professor . Docent is also used at some universities generically for a person who has the right to teach...

s, educators, visitor services staff, interpreters or a host of other titles.

Definitions of heritage interpretation

"Heritage interpretation is an educational activity which aims to reveal meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, by firsthand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information."
  • Freeman Tilden for the US National Park Service

"Any communication process designed to reveal meanings and relationships of cultural and natural heritage to the public, through first-hand involvement with an object, artifact, landscape or site."
  • Interpretation Canada (see link below)

"Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource."
  • The National Association for Interpretation (see link below)
  • The Definitions Project (consortium of over two dozen federal and non-profit organizations in the United States- see link below)*
  • John Veverka & Associates

"Interpretation enriches our lives through engaging emotions, enhancing experiences and deepening understanding of people, places, events and objects from past and present."
  • The Association for Heritage Interpretation (see link below)

"Interpretation is the process of communicating messages and stories about our cultural and natural heritage, providing the audience with inspiration and a wider understanding of our environment. Or quite simply, interpretation is about telling stories."
  • Scottish Interpretation Network (see link below)

"Interpretation refers to the full range of potential activities intended to heighten public awareness and enhance understanding of cultural heritage site. These can include print and electronic publications, public lectures, on-site and directly related off-site installations, educational programs, community activities, and ongoing research, training, and evaluation of the interpretation process itself."
  • ICOMOS "Ename" Charter for the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites 2008 (see links below)

"Tilden's principles" of interpretation

In his 1957 book, "Interpreting Our Heritage", Freeman Tilden
Freeman Tilden
Freeman Tilden was one of the first people to set down the principles and theories of Heritage Interpretation in his 1957 book, Interpreting Our Heritage. His work with the United States National Park Service inspired generations of interpreters and continues to be a definitive text for the...

 defined six principles of interpretation.

1. Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.

2. Information, as such, is not Interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based upon information. But they are entirely different things. However all interpretation includes information.

3. Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.

4. The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.

5. Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, and must address itself to the whole man rather than any phase.

6. Interpretation addressed to children (say up to the age of twelve) should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally different approach. To be at its best it will require a separate program.

For the past 50 years, Tilden's principles have remained highly relevant to interpreters across the world. In 2002 Larry Beck and Ted Cable published "Interpretation for the 21st Century - Fifteen Guiding Principles for Interpreting Nature and Culture", which elaborated upon Tilden's original principles.

See also

  • Blue plaque
    Blue plaque
    A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event, serving as a historical marker....

  • First-person interpretation
  • Interpretation centre
    Interpretation centre
    An interpretation centre, or interpretive centre, is an institution for dissemination of knowledge of natural or cultural heritage. Interpretation centres are a kind of new-style museum, often associated with visitor centres or ecomuseums, and located in connection to cultural, historic or natural...

  • Interpret Scotland
    Interpret Scotland
    Interpret Scotland is an inter-agency initiative between Scottish organisations concerned with heritage interpretation. It was begun in 1997 and its key aims are to :* Improve the quality and quantity of interpretation in Scotland...

  • Living history
    Living history
    Living history is an activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time. Although it does not necessarily seek to reenact a specific event in history, living history is...

  • Natural Heritage Education
    Natural Heritage Education
    Natural Heritage Education is an educational program offered by Ontario Parks in some provincial parks in Ontario, Canada. It is designed to provide education focusing on the natural and cultural heritage of the park its surrounding area...

  • Thematic Interpretation
    Thematic interpretation
    Thematic Interpretation is the practice of verbal and non verbal communication, using illustrated and non illustrated techniques, used by interpretive naturalists, Natural and cultural interpretive specialists, tour guides and others to present complex and sometimes dry subject matter in an...

  • The Association for Heritage Interpretation
  • The Vital Spark Interpretation Conference
    The Vital Spark Interpretation Conference
    The Vital Spark Interpretation Conference was held from 30 September - 3 October 2007 in the Aviemore Highland Resort in the Cairngorms National Park...

  • Visitor center
    Visitor center
    A visitor center or centre , visitor information center, tourist information center, is a physical location that provides tourist information to the visitors who tour the place or area locally...

  • Interpretive planning
    Interpretive planning
    Interpretive planning is an initial step in the planning and design process for informal learning-based institutions like museums, zoos, science centers, nature centers, botanical gardens, heritage sites, parks and other cultural facilities where interpretation is used to communicate messages,...

External links

Online resources