Sunday, November 1, 2009

Readings, Nov 2

(I'm a smidgen behind on the readings for this week, thanks to some unfortunate dental work. However, I wanted to have something here to at least add onto when I do finish the readings).

Freedman Tilden's Interpreting Our Heritage has come across my desk at work a number of times, is quoted fairly often in NPS training, and occasionally is critiqued as being outdated.

Interpretation is a peculiar sort of animal. What works one day may very well never work again. What really engaged the group on your walk at 11am may leave the group at 1pm falling asleep standing up, even if the group make up does not appear dramatically different, (although the level of mental engagement of the interpreter may have changed).

Something Tilden throws about in his text is this idea of comfort. Comfort for the audience, comfort with the information, comfort with the interactions of people to the resource, even the comfort of the interpreter. What does comfort mean exactly, though? Making the visitor feel warm and fuzzy? Making sure no one will pass out from heat stroke or acquire frostbite while you walk the rim of the Grand Canyon? Knowing your "stuff"?

Just this morning a colleague and I were discussing how you have to be 'in the mood' to make a walking tour up to the huts a good one. If you, the interpreter, are not mentally and physically comfortable with the walk and all that it entails (your theme, the information, the simple 1/4 mile up to the huts, your boots, your group not walking into the middle of the street, the list goes on and on), it creeps its way into your talk. If your visitor is hot, cold, exhausted or tired of being on vacation, the ability to absorb interpretation, and that lovely provocation Tilden mentions, decreases. Comfort in interpretation is hard to come by, but when it does, Tilden is right, interpretation can be very relaxing and very fulfilling, for both the visitor and the interpreter. However, can you still provoke a visitor to engage this history, both with other historic knowledge as well as the past, and still have them be comfortable? Isn't provocation by definition an uncomfortable thing? Handler and Gable seem to think so, or at least that a visitor cannot be both comfortable and engaged.

Tilden has a lovely definition for interpretation. It is all of one sentence long, but presents a incredibly daunting task to those who "do" interpretation. Striking that balance between information, provocation and revelation is an incredible challenge. Yes there are a myriad of aids to help you, exhibits, films (or as one lovely visitor this morning stated, slide presentations), demonstrations, interactions, etc. They all help. But provoking the visitor to want to take steps towards understanding the scope, motivations, or consequences of any given event or action is so difficult it becomes the exception, not the norm. This, I feel stems from something that Tilden chooses to ignore: the motivation of the visitor to come to a particular place. I respectfully disagree with him, but an individual visitor's reason for coming to a site guides their ability to interact with the interpretation more so than any docent, guide, film or exhibit.

More to come tomorrow.

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