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Posts Tagged ‘Legacy’

The current issue of Legacy (National Association of Interpretation, USA) includes a commentary by Robinne Weiss that critiques the continued reference by modern interpreters to Freeman Tilden.  In his book ‘Interpreting Our Heritage’, first published in 1957 (!), Tilden established the well-known ‘principles’ of interpretation which often are shortened to the mantra ‘relate-reveal-provoke’.

Ms Weiss is quite right.  Interpretation as a discipline has moved on and evolved, and while Tilden’s work shall forever be credited with having in effect birthed the discipline, his intuitive claims and observations can no longer suffice as justification for expenditure and planning decisions.  Like any other discipline, we need research and evidence to inform and justify our practices.

Much of that research already exists, albeit mostly not under the umbrella of ‘interpretation’.  We must look to heritage studies, museum studies, environmental psychology, tourism studies, learning/education/communication theory, etc.  As Ms Weiss rightly pointed out, if we do so, we actually find many of Tilden’s views validated – but carrying much more weight since evidenced.  And evidence is a hard currency in the economic context of heritage management.

Regrettably, many interpreters too often seem to feel they can rest on mere claims alone – just look at some of our specialist publications around, where personal observations and anecdotes still outweigh reflection on research and its practical application.

One reason behind this may be that many interpreters, like Tilden himself, feel that interpretation is an art.  But while Tilden very clearly bases the work of the interpreter on the research of specialists (see his chapter ‘Raw material and its product’), some modern practitioners seem to feel that as ‘artists’ their work is quite beyond the reach of evidence-based planning and evaluation.  We should not be surprised, then, that interpretation departments chronically are the first target for budget cuts, because woolly claims mean nothing to a Finance Director juggling the numbers.  Besides, she may just have a different opinion anyway.

So let us do ourselves a favour.  Freeman Tilden’s work was very valuable and important in its time, but that time has passed.  Now we have research to back us up and to prove that interpretation is a necessary and serious discipline and profession in its own right.  That’s a good foundation for a discussion when that financial red marker next waves our way.

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