Preservation > Interpretation

Recommendation

To have interpretation include the critical presentation of collection stewardship, which includes the preservation process and resulting treatments. Conduct interpretation for the edification of the Society itself (as a sustained self-assessment and ongoing post mortem of actions) and — in context of the collection — to express the value and meaning of these actions to further understanding and commitment to an engaged, participatory public.

Definition

"William Alderson and Shirley Payne Low, authors of Interpretation of Historic Sites, define interpretation as the communication of the "essential meaning of the site and of the people and events associated with it," and see it as an obligation on those who preserve historic places as trustees for present and future generations."

William T. Alderson and Shirley Payne Low, Interpretation of Historic Sites. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History, 1976, p. 6.

Paul H. Risk, of Yale University, defines interpretation as "the translation of the technical or unfamiliar language of the environment into lay language, with no loss in accuracy, in order to create and enhance sensitivity, awareness, understanding, appreciation, and commitment." For Risk, "the goal of interpretation is a change in behavior of those for whom we interpret."

Paul H. Risk, "Interpretation: A Road to Creative Enlightenment," CRM Vol. 17, No. 2 (1994), pp. 37, 40.

Tenet 1 - [Historic] resources possess meanings and have significance.
Tenet 2 - The visitor is seeking something of value for themselves.
Tenet 3 - Interpretation, then, facilitates a connection between the interests of the visitor and the meanings of the resource.

National Park Service, "Fulfilling the NPS Mission: The Process of Interpretation," Module 101, Interpretive Development Curriculum, Interpretive Development Program

"Interpretation has to be based on authentic qualities of the object. And if we want to pass down the objects to posterity as true documents, we have to care very much for the original substance. The extent to which this is spared during particular operations in conservation will depend very much on interpretation, mostly that by the conservator."

Jedrzejewska, Hanna. Ethics in Conservation, Stockholm, 1976. [Download as PDF format file.]

Resources

Telling the Stories: Planning Effective Interpretive Programs for Places Listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR Bulletin), by Ron Thomson, Interpretive Consultant, Oneonta, New York and Marilyn Harper, Historian, National Park Service 2000

Jessup, Wendy Claire, ed. Conservation in Context: Finding a Balance for the Historic House Museum, Washington, DC: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1995.

Harpers Ferry Center, National Park Service

Since 1970, Harpers Ferry Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, has created a variety of interpretive tools to assist NPS field interpreters. These tools include publications, wayside exhibits, audiovisual programs, museum exhibits, and historic furnishings. The Center also provides a variety of services: interpretive planning, conservation of objects, audiovisual equipment repair, graphics research, replacement of wayside exhibits, and the revision and reprinting of publications.

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