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”

Fundamentals of Historic Site Interpretation

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 Amelia Benstead ‘16

Though I agree with David Larsen’s sentiment that “the role of interpretation is to facilitate connections between the meanings of the resource and the interests of the visitor,” I disagree with the majority of the other claims that he makes. If interpretation is to make an impact on the visitor, it is vital that a connection be forged that both piques the interest of the visitor and draws upon the meaningfulness of the resource being explained. Without that interest or connection, the information that is interpreted becomes nothing but flat, dry facts which fail to make a lasting impact on the visitor.

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Continue reading “Fundamentals of Historic Site Interpretation”

Sorting Through the Layers of History

By Amelia Benstead ‘16

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

The confusion as to what site is truly the actual birthplace of George Washington stems from a variety of circumstances that combined to create a perfect storm of inaccuracy. In some cases, facts have been ignored in order to benefit those involved, conclusions have been drawn too heavily on eyewitness accounts which ultimately proved inaccurate, and investigations have coincided with important events, such as Washington’s 200th birthday, which would have been a controversial time to raise questions about whether the site being commemorated as his birthplace was actually the correct location.

The confusion first stems from the fact that George Washington Parke Custis wanted to place a marker on the site to commemorate where George Washington was born. Since the house had originally burned down, leaving very little evidence there had ever been a house on the site, especially not in what direction it had been pointing, he placed the marker in a location that he more or less guessed at, making conjectures that were unable to be supported by what he could see of the remaining building. From there, many people made additional conjectures based off of where Custis placed the marker. When contradictory information turned up, it was frequently downplayed or ignored because it would have caused too much upheaval at an inopportune time. This was exactly what happened when contradictory information was physically unearthed in an archeological dig just prior to Washington’s 200th birthday. Continue reading “Sorting Through the Layers of History”

Social Media in Museums

By Melanie Fernandes ‘16

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

Social media is commonly used by organizations in order to extend their public outreach. However, social media can also be a key component of internal workings in these organizations. In reference to historic sites, this is important to recognize. Many historic sites are large and contain several different subgroups; many also work in conjunction with other sites. Boston African American National Historic Site (BOAF) partners with both Boston National Historical Park and the Museum of African American History, working with each in different respects. Because of these connections, it is important for partnering sites to be aware of what the others are doing. At BOAF, we have been working to create an e-newsletter in order to update people on what is happening at our site. In this newsletter, the challenge is not only to highlight many aspects of the park, but also give our partners an awareness of broader developments within the National Park Service as a whole. The newsletter will highlight presentations given by specific BOAF rangers, the projects interns are working on, and the work of administrative staff.

As part of her duties as a 2015 Brian C. Pohanka Intern at Boston African American National Historic Site, Melanie Fernandes speaks to a tour group in front of the c. 1806 African Meeting House, the oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States and site of the formation of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832.
As part of her duties as a 2015 Brian C. Pohanka Intern at Boston African American National Historic Site, Melanie Fernandes speaks to a tour group in front of the c. 1806 African Meeting House, the oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States and site of the formation of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832.

Continue reading “Social Media in Museums”

Pohanka Reflection: Boston African American National Historic Site  

By Melanie Fernandes ‘16

My time at Boston African American National Historic Site, though brief, has given me new insight on how people view history. Right off the bat, it’s quite clear that within a city with a near-record number of historic properties, Boston African American National Historic Site is a smaller and less well-known historic site than many of its neighbors. While the park is affiliated with many other neighboring sites, it has its own unique mission: to preserve and promote the history of the African American struggle, both in the city and on a national scale, particularly during the time leading up to and through the Civil War. This is obviously a lesser-known history than that of the revolutionaries Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, but it is arguably no less interesting or significant.

Fernandes at 54th Memorial

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