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Posts Tagged ‘significance assessment’

For the stakeholder engagement conference I’m organising at my current site in September, I invited a member of the community to give the closing presentation.  I was very keen to ensure it isn’t just the ‘professionals’ talking about involving stakeholders and communities in interpretation, and reporting how well – or not – this worked.  I wanted to make sure that we also hear from the communities themselves.

So on Friday, this gentleman came to see me to run his presentation by me.  As I listened to him, I once again had this sense of humility that I often get when I speak to community members.  Let me explain what I mean.

First of all, I’ve never interpreted my own culture. And I think that’s been an asset, both to my practical work and to my thinking about interpretation.  I’ve always been aware that I’m an outsider to what I’m interpreting. And since I’m not a historian either, this meant that I’ve always started out by listening.  In listening to the people whose heritage I was about to interpret [1] I encountered emotions and stories, and existential questions that are so much larger than my own life. They have left me feeling humbled, and immensely grateful that I have the honour to interpret these people’s heritage.

To me, it is people’s sense of their own heritage that is the material for interpretation, not seemingly objective historical (or otherwise) facts.  And this too is something that I’ve come to believe through listening to people, and also because so far I’ve always worked at one site, where I’ve been immediately confronted with people’s reactions to my interpretation. I’ve learnt that if I don’t honour this sense of heritage, I might as well spare myself the effort.  At best, the stakeholders will politely recite my well-thought out interpretive themes and obligingly fulfil my learning objectives.  But then they’ll proceed to navigate around the interpretation as best they can so that they may engage with their heritage at this, their site on their terms.  They’ve shown me that if I can’t do better, then they don’t need me, thank you very much.

This experience may also explain why interpretation to me is facilitation.  It is not about imparting or increasing knowledge, in whatever form.  As one of my site’s stakeholders said, ‘Who does this person think he is to teach me about my own heritage?’  That isn’t to say that they don’t appreciate a professional’s input.  There is a very clear expectation at my current site that the stakeholders have of me.  On one hand, they rely on me to make sure that the site will be attractive to ‘tourists’.  But also they expect me to provide opportunities for them to engage with their heritage in different and meaningful ways. They expect to be involved. And I’ve learnt that letting go of the reins sometimes can actually lead to outcomes that I never would have been able to achieve on my own.  I remember vividly for example a talk that the local heritage forum did to coincide with an exhibition I had organised.  I wasn’t at all sure that the talk would live up to my ‘interpretive’ standards.  But it turned out to provide a perspective on the 1911 riots against Jewish businesses in town that it would have been impossible for me to introduce. And this sparked a lively and critical debate within the audience on the day and afterward that would be any interpreter’s dream.  Yes, I had a hand in it, by organising the exhibition and other talks around it.  But it was through the collaboration with the community that we achieved something we can be proud of.

So I’ve learnt to be humble as an interpreter.  Humble, because heritage communities really don’t need me when it comes down to it, at least not if I don’t pay heed to them.  And humble because they have so much to teach me.  Not the other way around.

 

Notes

[1] For the record, more often than not these people weren’t actually the local community.  This is the reason why I find it so very dangerous to use the term ‘community’ involvement, because most of the interpreters that I speak to and who use the term community involvement mean involving the local community.  But the local community may care the least about what is happening in their midst.  It may be people from very far away to whom this site matters.  To use an obvious example, the people living around Auschwitz are really not the ones for whom the site is preserved and interpreted.

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As far as J. Geraint Jenkins is concerned, the Welsh efforts to present the nation’s industrial heritage (!) are mostly doomed.  The reason is that sites, and coalmines in particular, are just not grimy enough.  He also points out that much fabric has been lost, leaving the remaining structures without the all-important context.  In presenting these faint shadow images of what life in Wales was like is to fall prey to romanticism and nostalgia, two demons that Jenkins evokes continually in his book ‘Getting yesterday right.’

I cannot help but detect in his writing that on-going suggestion of ‘heritage’ as an institution and industry.  In between the lines images are conjured of thrifty economists concocting ‘the heritage product’ that they can ‘sell’ to ‘tourists’ desperate for the romance of the past.  I’m a heritage manager myself, and my day-to-day job could not be more different.

Certainly Jenkins is right that many a valley has tried and is still trying to create a tourism attraction with whatever industrial remains they have left (and who can blame them).  But the issue here does not lie with heritage value per se, but with the tourism industry that may too freely apply the term ‘heritage’ to anything that might prove a tourism asset.  Heritage isn’t a ‘product’, it is an act performed by people.  Tourism managers may call it heritage, but that doesn’t make it so.

The other criticism that Jenkins has is that any interest that is detached from the dirt and noise of the coalmines is romantic and nostalgic.  He doesn’t elaborate on where this view comes from.  However, it does seem to hark back to a historian’s disdain for heritage as something less than history.  Of course, as David Lowenthal has shown in his book ‘The Heritage Crusade’ history and heritage are actually two completely different things altogether.  Other writers have since established the view of heritage as a practice, and like Lowenthal they have highlighted that selection, reworking and reinvention of historical facts are all crucial and necessary aspects of this heritage practice.  And the practice itself is crucial for our identity and meaning-making.

In other words, where Jenkins would like to see a whole valley still stuffed with coalmine dust, and the terraced houses cowering underneath black slag heaps to present what life was really like, the people who once lived that life might actually be mightily glad to see it gone.  A pit wheel and the opportunity to go down Big Pit if they want to, without the dust and danger, may be all they need to remember the true heritage value of the industry: the sense of camaraderie and endurance.  That’s what the miner-guide at Big Pit talked about when I went there; he even explicitly said he would not want to go back to work in the mines except for the bond he had with his colleagues.  That is the heritage of the coalmining industry.  The rest is just historical fact.

But would Jenkins prefer that we tell people’s history and not their heritage?  It does seem so.  And he is absolutely right that in presenting a whole valley as it used to be visitors would get the whole picture as an immersive experience.  I only wonder how many of them would ever want to come back?  And what about the people who live here?  Are we going to force them to live amid the reminders of what was a very hard and difficult life?  Are we going to turn them into museum pieces as well?

In all fairness, Jenkins does acknowledge that this would not be feasible.  He suggests that probably a multi-media piece of interpretation would be better, and I agree.  Only to me, this solution isn’t a regrettable compromise.  It does what good interpretation and heritage management should always do: it enables people to act on and live their heritage values as symbolised in spaces, while it gives them room to build on it, and change it, and use the security of that heritage to move forward and better themselves.  The dust and the noise are not heritage, they are history.  And some history just doesn’t need to be preserved in every grimy detail.

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About a year ago, I blogged about the sense of place I experienced when visiting a May festival in Germany.  At the time, I identified two ingredients to ‘a sense of place’: a ‘symbol’ and the ‘activity’ around it.  A few months later, I highlighted that in my opinion, an inclusive significance assessment will uncover the core of what makes a place distinctive, in other words, it will reveal the ‘sense of place’ we need to communicate.

I still uphold all of the above.  And yet as I am working to communicate my own (Welsh) site’s ‘sense of place’, I’ve thought some more about what makes ‘a sense of place’, and what this means for interpretation.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

– the place [1]

I know this sounds obvious, but hear me out.  With regard to nature interpretation (which is not my main focus) it has been noted that ‘less is more’.  If you’ve been reading this blog you will know that in my opinion, interpretation isn’t just about media, it is also about visitor management.  Where a site has a strong sense of place, the best interpretation guides visitors naturally to the best places, without disrupting their experience with media.  Interpretation here may be best compared to landscape architecture.

For me, the Highlands of Scotland are a great example of a place with natural ‘sense of place’.  When I visited there for the first time and without any prior knowledge, it was the (uninterpreted) wildness of the landscape, its unforgiving harshness and soul-aching beauty that struck me with its ‘sense of place’.  Through a flute-playing tour guide traditional Scottish music became a part of that sense of place, and it is interesting that Visit Scotland nowadays use these very same incredients in their adverts.

 

– the place [2]

It’s easy to see how a place of natural beauty can have a strong ‘sense of place’ but the same is actually true for buildings and built environments.  I’m not just talking about historic town centres such as that of Stein am Rhein.  I’m also talking about places like the Open Air Museum at Detmold in Northern Germany.  At least for someone from the South like me, the sense of place was created by the spaces in these relocated houses and villages.  This was enhanced by recognising similar architectural styles in the surrounding areas of today.  However, unlike with the natural places of strong sense of place, I think the man-made spaces want a little support from interpretation to highlight the human stories hidden underneath the architectural spaces.  At Detmold, for example, interpretation is practically non-existent, and people are conspicuously absent.  So while the fabric of the site has considerable sense of place, the fact that its raison d’etre – people and their lives – is not visible leaves the sense of place somewhat hollow.

 

– an emotion

Remember what I wrote about significance assessments helping you to reveal the core of a site?  Sometimes that core is encapsulated in an emotion, and the entire ‘sense of place’ flows from that emotion or human experience.  It’s similar to a novel: the novels we tend to remember the most are those with universal human emotions.  The example of a heritage site that derives its sense of place from such an emotion is Montgomery Place along the Hudson River in New York State.  I worked there as a tour guide, and on the proch of the house, facing the river Hudson, we told visitors of Janet Montgomery who fainted on that spot when after decades the body of her husband, General Richard Montgomery, was brought down the river from Canada to be reburied in New York.  Richard was the first general that fell during the American Revolution, and Janet, dedicated to his memory, had never remarried.  That human experience, told at the very spot where it happened, expressed everything the site was about: sacrifice, and commitment, and one woman’s strength.  Many times over it is what visitors commented on after the tour.  All we did in the interpretation was tell the story in three sentences – the rest was left to visitors’ imagination, and their experience of the ‘authentic’ site which otherwise would have been merely a pretty viewpoint.

 

– a story

We’ve now properly entered the human realm of ‘sense of place’, widening it out from an isolated emotion.  Here, sense of place comes entirely from a story.  A good example is the story of the Gainsboro sit-ins, the start of the sit-ins during the American Civil Rights Movement, where students demanded service for non-whites by sitting at lunch counters.  A section of the Gainsboro counter is now at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of American History, and regular participatory performances allow visitors to hear the story of the sit-ins and share in some of the experiences that the students at the time had.  For me, the ‘sense of place’ doesn’t come from the counter – it’s authenticity is a nice addition, but the real ‘sense of what this is about’ lies in the story of courageous young people who had a vision.  The performance does a great job at conveying that ‘sense of place’.

So in summary, as we move further away from the fabric of a place, interpretation becomes more important.  It may also be helpful to remind ourselves that the ‘place’ in ‘sense of place’ is literally about a distinctive experience whereever you happen to be and of whatever it is you’re interpreting.  Sometimes the location is pre-determined – as with the Highlands of Scotland – sometimes it isn’t – as with the museum.  Sometimes no interpretation is required, sometimes you do need interpretation to convey the ‘sense of place’.  At the end of the day, however, what it all comes down to is having a good understanding of why a place or topic you wish to interpret is significant.

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Two weeks ago I presented a paper on stakeholders to the online conference of Interpretation Canada.  I shared with delegates how I go about trying to understand the main stakeholders of a project.

Step 1: Who are the main stakeholders?

My first step is to identify who the main stakeholders are to begin with. I find a broad definition of stakeholder useful: stakeholders can range from casual users to specialist interest groups, from neighbours to tourists, and from those who can trace their actual heritage back to the site to those who claim it on spiritual grounds.  By not merely limiting stakeholders to neighbours and heritage groups, I think we get a better idea of the many meanings a site carries and the needs it fulfills [1].

Step 2: What is their history?

Once I know who the main stakeholders are I spend a great deal of time understanding their history in relation to the site: first, there is of course the actual history of events that have linked the site to this group [2].  But there is also a history beyond those events, and that is the history of what has happened to the group since [3].  It is important to understand what has happened to people since historical events have turned them into stakeholders.

Step 3: What is their present?

Sometimes stakeholders’ history beyond the original event merges into their present, but either way, it is important to be clear about where stakeholders are at now.  Many writers have pointed out that heritage is a fluid concept that changes according to shifting views.  This happens in response to events in the present, and it is why we cannot ignore current developments if we want to really understand stakeholders and what a site means to them [4].

Step 4: How do they use a site?

The next step is to understand how stakeholders use a site. In some cases this is obvious: a mountain bike group will use a park for mountain biking.  At other sites, however, this may be more elusive.  For example, the casual stroll through a park to get from A to B may seem negligible use but to the stakeholders in question it represents a crucial connection.

Step 5: How do they perceive a site?

Finally, I also look at how stakeholders perceive a site.  This is not always applicable, but sometimes stakeholders’ perception of a site is quite different to what it is in reality.  Particularly in conservation cases stakeholders may not be aware of the damage that is being done to a site.  In their minds, the very fact that a site has survived for two thousand years may symbolise its resilience and the reason for why it is meaningful to them.  An unedited conservation message is likely not to come through in this instance.

Steps 1 through 5 give me a fairly accurate understanding of stakeholders.  The questions is: what do you do with it?

Step 6: Stakeholders’ views of significance

I have discussed elsewhere that inclusive assessments of site significance should be at the heart of any interpretation.  In the process described above one of my primary aims is to understand why a site is important to stakeholders.  I use these significances to develop interpretation and also to set management guidelines.

Step 7: Turn stakeholders into audiences

Another important outcome of this process is that I have plenty of information about the stakeholders to allow me to develop interpretation and programmes for them that will be relevant and meaningful.  As I’ve written in the notes below, programmes make audiences.  We want stakeholders not only as sources of information, we also want them as audiences.  Just as interpretation is aimed at facilitating a connection between a site and other visitors, it should also facilitate the engagement of stakeholders with the site.  They may not always need it, but very often they appreciate it nonetheless.

 

 

Notes

[1] Sometimes interpreters speak of these groups as ‘audiences’ before ever identifying them as stakeholders.  In my opinion, that’s going at it the wrong way around.  Programmes make audiences; where there isn’t a programme there isn’t an audience, only people that are interested and who may hold a stake in the site.  That’s why I call them stakeholders, and develop programmes for them to turn them into audiences.

[2] At my current site, Bedwellty House and Park, for example, the main stakeholder group is local casual users.  Their link to the house and park is first, that it was the off-limits residence of the manager of the ironworks that dominated over everyone’s lives.  Then, more than one hundered years ago, the house became a public property, thriving for a few decades before the industry declined dramatically, leaving the community with many worries.

[3] At Bedwellty House and Park, the main story here is that of the steady decline of the industry.  Today, none of it is left in the area.

[4] As an example, stakeholders for Bedwellty House and Park are faced with the challenge of living in one of the most deprived areas of South Wales.

 

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A few years ago, when I first started to study heritage interpretation at uni, we were asked to write a paper on ‘The origins, purposes and developments of interpretation.’

For me, the obvious starting point was oral history.  Oral cultures pass on and continue their traditions through the stories and songs they share: in my mind that is the archetypal form of interpretation.

As I reflected on the developments of interpretation from oral history to where we are now, I couldn’t help but try to push our understanding of interpretation just one step beyond ‘meaning-making’.  I felt very strongly then as I do now that interpretation is a living social practice.

I was reminded of that paper when I attended Sue Langdon’s session ‘When Native Voices are Far Away’ at NAI’s National Workshop in Las Vegas last month.  Sue works at the Rocky Mountain National Park. The Native American peoples who historically lived in the area of the park have long since been moved off the land to reservations many hours away from the park.  There is no living memory of the park, but the tribes still have the stories associated with the land and that part of their history.

There were many lessons to be learnt from Sue’s experience of working with the tribes. For one, there are the obvious cultural differences in terms of communication and expectations.  I was also interested in the trips the park organised to enable groups from the tribes to stay in the park for several days.  This was – is – a mutually beneficial scheme: the tribes on one hand get the opportunity to reconnect with the land they once inhabited while the park learns things they otherwise might have missed [1].

But it was one aspect in particular that intrigued me:  Sue said that the tribal elders really appreciated the opportunity to share their stories with their young people during their visits to the park.  Telling their stories was therefore not just for the benefit of the park but also their own tribe.

This was also echoed in the experiences that Dr Jeremy Spoon reported on during the conference’s opening keynote speech.   Dr Spoon works with indigenous peoples in the Great Basin and he stressed the importance of letting tribal elders have young people sit in on any discussion.  Again, it is a means for the tribe to pass on their story, and the team would ensure the tribes got copies of any transcripts that were produced.

Getting back to my original thought from when I was a student – that interpretation is a living social practice –  these examples to me show two things: first, that the process of stakeholder consultation is in itself not a static ‘information-gathering exercise’ where information is extracted from stakeholders on a one-way street. Instead, the process is very much part of the stakeholders’ own oral history, and a way for them to share and thus conserve their stories in a lively, social exchange.  Second, the interpretation that flows from these conversations is itself a contribution to their exchange, as well as a reflection of it (or at least it should be).

Others have argued that heritage is a changing and dynamic social concept [2].  It is not frozen in time nor is it divorced from the present day lives of the people it belongs to.  This means that interpretation also cannot be understood as a permanent expression of heritage.

Interpretation as a living social practice is communication in the truest sense.  It is a two-way process, it flows and changes, and it inspires and transforms.  Interpretation is not just about expression, or media.  It is about the conversations that the stakeholders – those whose heritage it is – have about a place (or object).  The process of gathering stakeholder stories and meanings is as much part of interpretation as a living social practice as is the final interpretive provision for site visitors.  Interpretation that is meaningful will capture and spark stakeholder stories and create a gateway for visitors to enter the conversation.

Notes

[1] Apart from the tribes’ stories the park also found out something about some plants.  I’m not a horticulturalist so I’ve already forgotten the name of the plant, but women from the tribe identified it on the slopes of the mountain.  It’s an herb they use in their medicine, and it doesn’t naturally grow at this altitude.  So chances are, their ancestors planted the herbs where they now are.

[2] e.g. Howard, P. (2003) Heritage: Management, Interpretation, Identity. London: Continuum;  Tunbridge, J.E. and Ashworth, G.J. (1996) Dissonant Heritage.  The Management of the past as a resource in conflict. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons

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I’ve just returned from an excellent conference – the National Workshop of the US-American National Association for Interpretation.  I’ve picked up many good ideas that I will certainly blog about, but today I want to reflect on the responses I got to my own paper.

I presented some of the research I’ve recently completed into significance and interpretation.  In a nutshell, my case studies [1] as well as a review of existing interpretive planning models and organisational planning practices suggest strongly that interpreters do not undertake and consider inclusive significance assessments when planning interpretation.  Visitor surveys at the case study sites suggest that the resulting interpretation does not reflect or even shape why visitors think a site is important.  In other words, visitors to the case study sites formed their views about site importance independent of the interpretation although they did receive the intended interpretive messages.  They just didn’t think these messages expressed the site’s significance.

In my opinion that means the interpretation was fundamentally flawed.  What do we interpret if not precisely why the site is important?  How can we justify that our interpretation does not reflect a site’s significance to its stakeholders? [2]

An inclusive significance assessment must be at the core of any interpretation.  It will reveal the different meanings that stakeholders attach to a site.  Interpreting these meanings will avoid alienating stakeholders and it will ensure that those without prior knowledge will gain a true understanding of why the site is protected and important to others.

But what about those sites where two different groups have two conflicting meanings?  What about sites of shame, one delegate asked in my session? What about those heritage beliefs that some find offensive?

These are great questions and underline just how much responsibility interpreters carry.  And I don’t pretend to have an easy answer either beyond what I’ve already stated above: we need to consider all stakeholder meanings and preferably reflect them all, too.

The first step is therefore to determine who the stakeholders are.  In my opinion that goes a long way and it will reveal a certain weighting as well.  Taking Culloden Battlefield as the example from my research, a stakeholder assessment will quickly show that although English soldiers fought on the battlefield as well, the battle really does not occupy an important place in the sense of heritage of today’s English.  Experts on the battle [3] have pointed out that had the battle taken place in England, the site would most likely have long since been lost.  It is the descendants of the Gaelic community and the Scottish Diaspora at large who are the strongest force behind the protection of the site.  Historically accurate or not, to them the site represents a turning point in their culture’s and their family’s histories, and this goes across battle lines, for Gaelic speakers and Scots fought on both sides. [4]

I propose that the interpretive themes should flow from these stakeholder meanings. [5]  Above I mentioned that the stakeholder assessment may provide a certain weighting in terms of significance already.  For Culloden, this may be the overall acknowledgement that the site is a heritage site because of and to the Gaelic community, rather than the Scots-Government or English community of today.  This does not mean, however, that the relevant historical facts need to be hidden.  They just need to be introduced in a way that is respectful of the overall heritage claim of the site.

But what about sites where two meanings well and truly oppose each other with equal strength?  There seems to be a tendency to aim for what I call the ‘historical facts approach’ to interpretation in such cases.  Rather than set foot on what is perceived to be slippery ground, the interpretation presents ‘the historical facts’.  [6] This is what was largely done at Culloden Battlefield, resulting in visitors maintaining or gaining a view of the site’s ‘true’ importance quite independent of the interpretive messages.  In other words, the ‘historical facts approach’ will not reflect significance.  Therefore, I advocate to have the courage to present both sides.  This can still be done in a respectful, neutral tone that will enable the stakeholders in question to retain the site as their own as well as allow visitors to truly understand modern conflicts and make up their own minds.

Of course every site presents its own challenges.  I do not claim that the above is a fool-proof method to interpret significance.  However, if nothing else, it may help make interpreters aware of the far-reaching impact of their decisions early on in the interpretive planning process.  I hope it can help interpreters realise that their efforts may be wasted if they dodge these decisions.  They’re tough but they’re an essential part of our job.

And to all those that have joined my session at the NAI workshop in Las Vegas – thank you for your great comments and thoughtful questions, and the inspiration you have provided me.

 

Notes

[1] My case studies were Bru na Boinne in Ireland, Culloden Battlefield in Scotland, and Stanley Mills, also in Scotland.  However, I only considered Bru na Boinne and Culloden Battlefield since low visitor responses at Stanley Mills made firm conclusions impossible.

[2] And let us not forget here that significance is at the core of heritage protection legislation

[3] such as Archaeologist Dr Tony Pollard and Historian Christopher Duffy.

[4] I don’t want to muddle up things by delving too deeply into a discussion of the history of the ’45 Jacobite Rising.  Suffice it to say that while many have blindly associated all evil that befell the Gaelic and Highland community after Culloden with the Government’s leader, the Duke of Cumberland, the underlying heritage belief is less about the protagonists and more about a sense of loss (of culture and home), injustice (even clans loyal to the Government were punished) and brutality (suffered by many Highlanders in the aftermath of the battle).  Again, this seems to be shared across the ideological divide and therefore transcends the historical facts of civil war.  The latter, however, is one of the main messages of the interpretation in an attempt to provide ‘a balanced picture’.

[5] We will leave out the management messages etc. which will also influence interpretive themes.

[6] Of course in reality, there is no such this as a ‘historical fact’.  History is made up of fragmented records which are themselves coloured by the opinions and understanding of the writer.  On top of that, these records are then – no pun intended – interpreted by individual historians.  See Lowenthal, D. (1998) The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

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I recently had a very interesting chat with a colleague who is working on educational programmes.  They covered a whole range of topics that may be of interest to teachers and so encourage them to bring pupils on site.  I admired their ideas for a broad variety of possible projects, and yet one thing remained missing for me: the programmes just didn’t seem to communicate the stories that were unique to the site.

Many educational and even interpretive programmes suffer from this.  The stories are generic and if you hadn’t made the trip you may well not know where exactly you’ve landed.  Just try and google ‘Victorian Christmas’ these days, and you will find sites as varied as the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey, UK (an industrial heritage site) and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo, New York, USA.  Activities tend to centre on the same theme of Victorian gifts and decorations.  No sense of place there.

It is of course tempting to go for the ‘tried and tested’.  Victorian Christmas events are hugely popular, and the Victorians are a topic prescribed in the curricula across Britain.  You will have an audience, no doubt, but after their visit people (and pupils) will not be able to tell their experiences at your site apart from what they’ve had last year at a different site.

Is this good enough?  Will it be enough to convince visitors and funders when times get rough that your site is unique and worth the effort?  You can probably guess that my answer is no.  Any house that was in use during Victorian times can serve the Victorian theme purpose, but only Montgomery Place can tell the story of the first General killed in the American War of Independence, and his widow who became a national icon for decades and who remained committed to him for the rest of her life.  That is the story of the site.

And to uncover that story is what significance assessments are for.  I’ve previously written about the importance of (inclusive) significance assessments.  Sometimes these uncover conflicting stories, but in many cases they will identify a shared core that should become the spine of any interpretation.  In my opinion, only that spine can hold up what you do.   If you ignore it in any aspect of your site presentation – be it through educational programmes or events – you weaken your sense of place.

This does not mean that your site is condemned to obscurity if it doesn’t fit the most popular demands.  For school programmes it is often a simple matter of demonstrating how the experiences and activities which the site’s core story offers support pupils in similar ways as the popular topics do.  The site may also offer a unique angle on the popular theme that teachers will value because they can explore it nowhere else.  This requires more creativity and forward thinking from interpreters but it also avoids reducing the site’s story to the point of irrelevance.

 

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