Park Interpretation and the Essence of Education

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 Sam Kauker ‘16

In David Larsen’s article “Be Relevant or Become a Relic,” he offers his own definition of what interpretation should consist of, as well as gives examples of poor interpretation strategies. These include what he calls “interpredata, interpretainment, interpreganda, and interprecation.” The main point that Larsen makes throughout his article is that the fundamental goal of interpretation is to allow visitors to make a connection to the resources of the park, rather than merely feeding them information.

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Based on my experience working at Antietam National Battlefield the past two summers, I agree with several parts of Larsen’s argument. He argues that interpredata, the mere transmission of facts and data from the interpreter to the visitor, does not serve as a productive method of interpretation. During my time at Antietam, I have seen a number of rangers provide interpretive talks and programs, each with their own unique style. While some focus intently on the minute details of the battle, others give a larger overview with more personal connections woven into their program. I have found that the latter are the ones that are most useful because they really stick with the audience and allow them to form those connections. Like Larsen says, too much information all at once can be overwhelming. Cutting out some of these unnecessary data points allows the interpreter to focus more on the human aspects of the battle, which in turn serves as a better means of facilitating a connection between the visitor and the battlefield. Continue reading “Park Interpretation and the Essence of Education”

Antietam – The Maryland State Monument and Reconciliation

By Sam Kauker ‘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.

Though its monuments are not nearly as numerous as those at Gettysburg, Antietam National Battlefield is still dotted with hundreds of monuments that commemorate those who fought and died in the struggle between North and South. Most of the monuments here reflect that struggle; there are monuments to northern states and regiments, and then there are other monuments, though much fewer, that memorialize those soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. There is one monument here that breaks the mold. It does not focus as much on the fighting of the battle as it does on the reunification and reconciliation that occurred afterward.

The Maryland Monument at Antietam Battlefield was dedicated in 1900 to demonstrate reconciliation between citizens torn apart by the war. Photo credit Sam Kauker.
The Maryland Monument at Antietam Battlefield was dedicated in 1900 to demonstrate reconciliation between citizens torn apart by the war. Photo credit Sam Kauker.

The Maryland state monument is one of the main attractions for visitors, in no small part because it commemorates the soldiers that fought and died defending their own land. This monument is unique because it is a memorial not to either Union or Confederate soldiers, but to men from both sides. In the Battle of Antietam, Marylanders fought in both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, killing each other on the ground that they both called home. Continue reading “Antietam – The Maryland State Monument and Reconciliation”