Sunday, April 29, 2012

Turns Out the Second Post Isn't Much Easier

"The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation." -Freeman Tilden

Freeman Tilden wrote "Interpreting our Heritage," a work that became a foundational piece in how interpreters, especially at National Park Service sites, understand how they should convey information to the public. He presented six main ideas. One of his ideas, stated above, can prove to be a difficult thing for historians to do. We like using words! We like using lots of words! We have lots of information we want to tell people! And what we know is important, so we should tell people as much as possible!

But if the chief aim of interpretation, as Tilden wrote, is provocation, how do we do that?

"provoke (verb): to arouse feeling or action; to call forth; to stir up purposefully."

To stir up purposefully. What does that mean? What does that look like? Especially at historic sites? And an even better question: how do historic places do that?

I am of the thought that people make their own connections to sites. The interpreter facilitates a process that provokes thought and emotion and allows visitors to make their own connection. Visitors bring with them a broad variety of backgrounds, understandings, and experiences that impact how they receive information. The interaction between interpreter and visitor(s) should be a process. It is organic. It is a craft.

I am laying out this idea here as a precursor for my upcoming postings. The term "interpretation" means different things to people, to fields of study. When I think about "interpretation," I think about provocation. I want visitors to walk away provoked. The "stirring up" of provocation does not have to be with a hot iron; rather, it should be a gentle prodding. Provocation plants the seeds that allow for further thought and investigation and discussion.

Monday, April 23, 2012

First Posts are Always the Worst

It doesn't matter how experienced I might be at writing; the first submission of any new writing-type feels the worst. I remember my first paper submitted to my historiography class in graduate school. After my many tears and gnashing of teeth, I settled on something I felt comfortable enough to print and turn into the professor. Thankfully, my gnashing of teeth lessened as school progressed.

My goal is to publish at least one post a week regarding history in interpretation, interpretation of history, historical interpretation, etc. I was most recently inspired by last week's joint conference of NCPH and OAH. I didn't actually attend, but a number of attendees produced enough digital content to light a fire under my public historian being and motivated me to start a blog. I love to read about what others are doing and would like to join that conversation. If this blog is my way of joining the conversation, consider this post the "My Name is Elizabeth"nametag. Introductions, handshakes, and smiles will eventually lead to thought-provoking conversation (hopefully).

Tomorrow I will be attending an all-day workshop hosted for those interested in digital creativity. The workshop is not necessarily designed for historians or educators or public servants. But is has been advertised as "a daylong exploration of what the future of our creative economy can look like." I am interested to see what futuristic ideas will be presented so I can chew on those ideas in light of historical interpretation. Next week I will be attending a webinar training sponsored by the National Park Service entitled, "Integrating Civil War to Civil Rights." The class will focus on the interpretation of these themes. If the assigned pre-coursework is any indication of the level of thought the class will provoke, I am in for a treat.