Finding a Balance Between Providing Answers and Provoking Questions

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Erica Paul ‘18

Imagine that an individual is a first time visitor to a National Park site, such as Boston African American National Historic Site, and they do not know what to expect from the experience. Upon arriving at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, the start of the Black Heritage Trail, the calm, smiling face of the NPS interpretation ranger instantly assuages the nerves and fears of the visitor about the journey that they are about to embark on. I believe that David Larsen is correct in his assessment that the significance of interpretation lies in its ability to create a relationship between the significance of the site and the visitors’ wants and needs. Nevertheless, my opinion is that there is a far greater amount of responsibility and excitement to the idea of good interpretation than just this.

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Larsen presents the concepts of interpredata, interpreganda, interpretainment and interprecation as problematic in attempting to connect with visitors. Inherently, there are systematic problems with each of these strategies. Interpredata implies a presentation of data throughout the interpretation of a site and its resources. When an individual thinks of data, often the first thought is of mathematics and statistics. In this context, a presentation of data could be a reliance on facts to describe a site. While facts are crucial for historical accuracy, relying too heavily on this formulaic interpretation of a site is boring to a typical public audience. Continue reading “Finding a Balance Between Providing Answers and Provoking Questions”