Review: The Interpret Europe Conference 2019

You know that you’ve been to a fantastic conference when it stays with you for some time afterwards. That is the case with me and the recently ended Interpret Europe conference on ‘Engaging with diversity’. I would like to share some impressions, ranging from the conference location to papers to a General Assembly that has made me proud to be a member.

 

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina: A place I won’t forget

It was an absolute masterstroke to hold a conference on diversity in Sarajevo. Coming from Germany, where some still think it necessary to discuss whether or not Islam is part of our nation, it was amazing to see so many mosques right alongside synagogues and churches – the European Jerusalem indeed. The war was also ever present, not only in the bullet holes in the buildings, but also in what our Bosnian hosts shared with us. It seemed to me an example of where diversity had ceased to exist comfortably together, not because of people, as we were told, but because of politics. It raised questions about dealing with national trauma and achieving reconciliation, not the least in places like the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide, where it turned out one of the founders and our tour guide had been a prisoner of war himself. Sarajevo was perfect for this conference precisely because it isn’t a perfect example of diversity in harmony. It provided, however, a perfect opportunity to discuss what interpretation at heritage sites and in museums should be and what it should strive to achieve in this context.

To our hosts, I would like to extend another heartfelt ‘Thank you!’

 

Four truths as the foundation of interpretation

Anne and Rachel Ketz of the US American 106 Group ltd reported on their application to interpretation of the four truths that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa used. It was one of those instances when you wonder why you’d not thought of this yourself before. I have since scanned the relevant report and can only recommend it to. The four truths are factual or forensic truth, that is the classic Western idea of objective facts, which are established through forensic checks and cross-checks. Then there is personal and narrative truth, which is not about ‘arguments or claims in a court of law’ (report, p. 112), but about giving voice to those who have been silenced before. Social or ‘dialogue’ truth is almost quintessentially agonistic: it is about making ‘a conscious effort to provide an environment in which all possible views could be considered and weighed, one against the other’ (ibid, p. 113). It is, in essence, about listening. The final truth is healing and restorative truth. This is centrally about acknowledgement, for ‘often the basic facts about what happened are already known, at least by those who were affected. What is critical is that these facts be fully and publicly acknowledged’ (ibid, p. 114). Importantly, healing and restorative truth also looks forward into the future, seaking to establish a foundation from which a society can truly move forward.

Anne and Rachel’s presentation has made it abundantly clear that these four truths are a perfect tool in interpretive planning processes.

 

Checking values to make visible difference and commonalities

I will confess that I’ve been dubious about Interpret Europe’s focus on European values for the past few years. However, a workshop led by Patrick Lehnes and Peter Seccombe has persuaded me that there is more to it than I allowed. An exercise which had us check our values in a group, and imagine a group different from us doing the same, convinced me that here was a tool that could be usefully employed to establish both difference and commonality between two groups, and a starting point for discussion. This struck me as particularly helpful when considering feedback as part of The Promised Land project, where language tutors reported discussions on values such as family between them and new arrivals. What is family to us? How do we express our values in this regard? This exercise might give structure to such shared cultural explorations.

 

A General Assembly to inspire

Unfortunately, there had been some friction between Interpret Europe’s management and the previous Supervisory Committee prior to this conference. Tempers ran high, and there was every chance that the General Assembly might descend into a fiasco. No such thing happened. Instead what I was privileged to witness was a mature organisation handle itself admirably. We had an excellent chair in Peter Seccombe from the UK, who guided us through the sometimes uncomfortable points of the agenda with a steady hand. In fellow founding member Michael Glen from Scotland we had someone who, when things might have gone astray, immediately set us on the right course by suggesting a way forward rather than a harmful look back. As another fellow founding member of Interpret Europe said, perhaps because we were – I was – there when it all began for the organisation, we/I deeply care about this organisation today. After this conference, and having seen a management under shameful attack carry itself with such inspiring integrity, I am not only convinced of Interpret Europe’s continued growth. I am once again persuaded that Interpret Europe is in fact at the forefront of developing our discipline of interpretation and exploring issues that are relevant to it today. I am honoured to be a member, and if you are not a member already, you really should consider becoming one. Things are happening. Be a part of it.

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Interpret Europe Conference 2019

  1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and insights. Gave me a great snapshot of what was covered. Now wishing I’d been there and am thinking of joining Interpret Europe.

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