The History of Meaning Making
In his 1957 book Interpreting Our Heritage, Freeman Tilden tried to define the craft of interpretation: “Heritage interpretation is an educational activity,” he wrote, “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.” To help interpreters make those meanings, he defined six principles of interpretation:
- 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.
- Information, as such, is not Interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based upon information. But they are entirely different things. However all interpretation includes information.
- Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.
- The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.
- Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, and must address itself to the whole man rather than any phase.
- 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 useful to interpreters across the world. Even the roots of the newest interpretive revolution in audience-centered experience reach back to Tilden’s definition of the craft.
- Foundations of 21st Century Interpretation Competency Descriptions
Looking For More on Audience Centered Experiences?
You can find much more self-guided learning and all of the materials for making yourself an ACE in the Audience Centered Experience Interpretation workbook.
You can find links to seasonal lesson plans which support this emerging skill set in the Audience Centered Experience Trainers’ Guide.