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The Roots of Interpretation

Good Stories Well-Told

The history of interpretation has had amazing revolutions. The first major moment where interpretation began shifting from just factual communication to a more meanings-based approach came in the 1950s, championed by Freeman Tilden.

In Interpreting Our Heritage, Tilden crafted a framework for seeing natural and cultural resources as deeply meaningful and personal landscapes. Tilden’s model largely translated in the field to amazingly powerful lectures and programs, where interpreters explained why audiences might find these resources meaningful and worthy of preservation. For five decades, interpreters served as a sage-on-the-stage, offering prepackaged nuggets of wisdom and the stories of human experience within the resource.

This form of communication was and remains valid and valuable. The stories of the resource and the expertise of the interpreter on those stories are important elements of the interpretive experience. But the shift in the culture of communication and education are showing us that these prescriptive models alone are not enough to drive visitor actions or change lives.

Facts about a landscape are never enough. “Not with the names of things does care for a place arise,” Tilden wrote, “but by exposing the soul of things–those truths that lie behind what you are showing your visitor.”

Helping facilitate a visitor’s connection to the story of the place through techniques and interactions with the resource can catalyze care.

Additional Readings

Looking For More on Audience Centered Experiences?

Audience Centered Experience Button - Two Pictogram Visitors talking to a pictogram rangerYou can find much more self-guided learning and all of the materials for making yourself an ACE in the Audience Centered Experience Interpretation workbook.

Interpretive Leadership button - a pictogram ranger leading a group of other rangers higherYou can find links to seasonal lesson plans which support this emerging skill set in the Audience Centered Experience Trainers’ Guide.

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