Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Time's, They are A-Changin'

To keep up with the many changes in my life from when I started this over a year ago, I am going to be making some changes here. One of the (slow but steady changes) has been the decrease in posting frequency. I plan on a'changing that. I also am planning on a site "overhaul" with some visual renewal.

My favorite change, however? Adding other contributors. Well, for now, adding another contributor. Mr. Chris Barr, park ranger and former history teacher, will now start sharing *his* thoughts here, too. I am looking forward to broadening the scope here and seeing what he has to say about history and interpretation. I am also super stoked (and am flattered) that he agreed.

Let's see where this takes us over the course of the next year, shall we?

*Chris Barr will be contributing as his own person and not representing official views of any other organization. All work and writing contained within is done on our personal, unpaid time.

**"Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen and keep your eyes wide for the chance won't come again."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bottomline: Crowds like the Boom

I'm experimentin.' And by "experimentin'" I mean "goofin' around." But I can't help it so here I go:

I have found video one of the more effective ways to communicate and have been pulling out all of my gear and equipment (I paused some of my projects that I now need to complete). I felt the need to stretch my video muscles a little this weekend. That started with a conversation I had with my husband on Saturday:

Me: "Have you ever seen a cannon fire?"

Him: "No."

Me (overly exasperated): "WHAT"

Him: "Where would I have seen that?"

He made a good point. He grew up in the midwest then moved out to the desert. There are few opportunities to see cannons in the desert. I saw a Facebook status posted by Stones River National Battlefield that reminded me that THIS was THE weekend. It was the artillery battery weekend. Traditionally, that meant six cannons would be wheeled out and fired as a demonstration with accompanying stories told by rangers and volunteers. I have only missed one of the past six years' worth of demonstrations (I was in Louisiana at the time).

"Well, lets go tomorrow!"

So he agreed. I got him to agree to go to the museum and see the battlefield because of cannons. Much to my chagrin, it was the idea of a big boom that drew him in the first place (as is the story for many visitors to the battlefield during these weekends). Big booms draw crowds. I had recently seen all sorts of conversation about living history's role in the presentation of the past (and then I have my personal views on living history activities). Bottom line: it does draw people who may not have visited the site otherwise. So I decided to capture some of it on my phone's camera and see how making a video would compare to the actual event. It is a step up from writing about the boom but far below the reverberations felt within my chest during the program. It is why most visitors on living history weekends attend in the first place: to experience that demonstration. What they walk away with is another story. It is how the programs are delivered that make the difference between a dog-and-pony show and quality interpretation.

Among other thoughts about living history, I'll save my opinions about the cheering and clapping and "festive" vibes that happen after the cannons fire for another post.

EDIT: I forgot my disclaimer! *The views (and video) contained within are my own, completed on my own time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Not a Question of Rivers

It's John's fault. He slammed it right out of the park with a piece earlier this week about shifting interpretations at battlefields. So I've been a'thinkin all week. Many things regarding interpretation and history have piqued my interest the past few months, but I have been busy. I left a job where I was immersed in history (and interpreting that history) to other work that forces me to deliberately make the decision to think about history and interpretation. It has been a valuable experience, if not frustrating sometimes.

Them people got places to be! (Image: Library of Congress)
Over the last nine months, I have moved thrice, living in super-rural (Stewart County), super-metropolitan (Viva NashVegas), and currently a version of suburbia. Every environment provided me new neighbors- different audiences who were usually willing to share their opinions about history when they learned of my background. "It's boring" or "my great-great-great-granddaddy fought in the Civil War" or "I've lived here all my life and never been to [insert local significant historical site here]." These insights force me to think about how I do (or have done) my job. Living in worlds outside of the "historians' circle" or "NPS 4evah fan club" grants me insight to how much what historians, interpreters, and park rangers do is often misunderstood.

Historic sites compete. Not necessarily with each other. Not even necessarily with other local "tourist attractions." Historic sites compete for attention. These places stand as physical representations of countless stories that reveal the complexities of a community, region, or nation. Those stories contained within are what make the walls (or bricks or fields or graves or monuments) valuable. But what good is value if people don't know of it, if it stays tucked away and out of reach to the majority of people? So interpreters craft methods to build meaning to visitors as a means to understand that value. Borrowing from John:
This is not revolutionary, it's a concept that Freeman Tilden piloted in 1957 with his Interpreting Our Heritage (“Information, as such, is not Interpretation”) and David Larsen echoed again in Meaningful Interpretation using the words of Tanaka Shozo (“The care of rivers is not a question of rivers, but of the human heart”). But it's key.
So as I trek through my day-to-day, realizing my own constant distractions from something I am fairly passionate about, I wonder about the perceptions of those without that original interest. It's hard to convey significance sometimes, even when the meanings of places are broadcast loud and clear. The emotional connections created with the type of interpretation John advocates provide these historic sites ammunition for competing with daily distractions. They provide inspiration. They provide a chance for reflection. They provide reasons for action. They make people want more.

I agree that this is key. Researching, reading, and synthesizing are just parts of the interpretation craft. Storytelling is another part. Discovering and understanding audience is yet another part. However, that key of creating a meaningful connection is what we strive for, what we work for, what is likely the most difficult part of being an interpreter. Incidentally, it generally proves the most rewarding part of being an interpreter.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A few things about my last post

I was so excited that Chris agreed to write a guest post here and do you know what I did? I fumbled it.

Chris, I am so sorry for not posting it correctly in the first place! I have tried to remedy the photos (and font), but there are still a few funky things going on here. Pleeeeease forgive me (and give me another chance to post a better one! Your writing was great! My delivery was not so stellar).

As of yesterday, I finally have my computer hooked to real internet. For the past several months, I had been operating with internet from the sky (and that was always iffy so I began to ignore any screen time to decrease my stress levels). Then during these past few weeks, I had been traveling around and moving, operating with my phone and an iPad. As it turns out, iPads and posting things to blogs do not mix. I posted Chris's guest post through that iPad. I could see photos great on it, but he mentioned they weren't loading properly. I got distracted then BAM- two weeks passed. FINALLY, I could sit down and start thinking only to discover not only had I let a friend down but that I let that friend down publicly for two weeks on this blog. (And I cannot figure out how to get that font to a normal size).

What do you say, Chris? You've got some amazing ideas I'd (still) like to see shared. I've got something to prove. Let me know when you want to share next. I'll do right by you this time.