"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.