Interpreting Interpretation

Most people don’t know heritage interpretation exists, even if they have been affected by it.  If we can change that, they could use interpretive principles to build greater connections with other people.  These connections, like connections to nature and culture, add richness to all our lives.


Two new Education Department interns didn’t know the distinction between Environmental Education and Natural History Interpretation. Luckily, there was a passionate interpreter there who was excited to share. 


The explanation was knowledgeable, focused, and geared toward the audience.  The interns looked underwhelmed.  They were not engaged or withdrawn.  They said “oh” almost in unison in the same mundane tone and walked away.  The description of interpretation was not enjoyable.  It was not interpretive! 


I am very interested in this idea of successfully interpreting interpretation because it is challenging and has great potential to help people.  The difficulty is concepts and techniques are not charismatic like national parks, animals, and historic places. 


There is no innate appeal or intrigue in the interpretive equation but if we can use it on itself, and get people to care enough to want to learn more, anyone who deals with the public could use aspects of heritage interpretation to better get their message across. 


I introduce the ideas of interpretation to participants in a wildlife rehabilitation workshop.  In order to help injured or orphaned wild animals, rehabilitators must be able to connect on some level with the people who have or will encounter the animals.


I have received lots of positive feedback from participants in this workshop about how helpful it is to know that interpretive principles exist and how they can’t wait to try them out.  It might help that I have more than ten seconds to grab the audience’s interest and use a live owl to help demonstrate the concepts. 


So if we only have one brief interaction (and no owl) with which to light the spark about lighting sparks, what is most effective?  The intern story happened last week.  The interpreter was me.  Clearly, I am still trying to figure this out.  Please share any ideas.


If we can successfully interpret interpretation, it would aid non-interpreters and help professional interpretation get the recognition it deserves. Sorry for the lengthy post.  Hopefully I made it interpretive enough that you wanted to get this far!   Thanks for reading, Eli



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