In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cultural Heritage Presentation and Interpretation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Edited Volumes
  • Journals
  • Guidelines and Charters
  • Organizations

Anthropology Cultural Heritage Presentation and Interpretation
by
John H. Jameson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0262

Introduction

With conceptual roots going back to the first half of the 20th century, the public interpretation and presentation of cultural and archaeological heritage have become essential components in the conservation and protection of cultural heritage values and sites. By the early 21st century, the mechanisms and processes of public interpretation had reached a heightened level of sophistication and effectiveness. In the international arena, many leading organizations have emerged that are carrying the banner of interpretation principles for access, inclusion, and respect for multiple points of view. These principles emphasize the importance of dialogue facilitated by community engagement experts / laypersons, and participation in all phases of program planning, development, and delivery. Conventions and charters have been two of the most used categories of international documents to frame standards and guidelines for cultural and archaeological heritage management and presentation. International documents that specifically addressed the presentation and interpretation of archaeological heritage did not take shape until the late 20th century. The most important international document, to date, relating to interpretation and presentation of archaeological heritage sites is the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Charter on the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites (2008). The charter lays out seven principles of interpretation and presentation about the conservation, education, and stewardship messages that represent the transcendent humanistic values of the resource. The concept of authenticity has become a central concern in the conservation and interpretation of cultural heritage. The Nara Document of 1994 (ICOMOS 1994, cited under Guidelines and Charters) built on the Venice Charter (ICOMOS 1965, cited under Guidelines and Charters), considering an expanding scope of cultural heritage concerns. It addresses the need for a broader understanding of cultural diversity and cultural heritage and underscores the importance of considering the cultural and social values of all societies. It emphasizes respect for other cultures, other values, and the tangible and intangible expressions that form part of the heritage of every culture. The Nara+20 text identifies five key interrelated issues highlighting prioritized actions to be developed and expanded within global, national, and local contexts by wider community and stakeholder involvement: (1) diversity of heritage processes, (2) implications of the evolution of cultural values, (3) involvement of multiple stakeholders, (4) conflicting claims and interpretations, and (5) the role of cultural heritage in sustainable development. The goal of more-inclusive interpretations requires an acceptance of divergent definitions of authenticity that depend on a level of tolerance of multiple definitions of significance with concomitant, objectively derived, assigned, and ascribed heritage values. We can hope that these efforts lead to the recognition of humanistic values that are reflected in cultural heritage narratives and heritage tourism practices as well as site commemoration and protection decisions by controlling authorities.

General Overviews

There are few overviews of the practice and methods of cultural heritage interpretation and presentation. Tilden 1957 pioneeringly laid down the main principles of interpretation (cultural and natural), built around the tenet of audience provocation, which have been generally followed ever since, albeit some early-21st-century scholars espouse the notion beyond Freeman Tilden’s principles of interpretation as a form of discourse within the wider community (Silberman 2013). Beck and Cable 2002, Ham 1992, and Ham 2013 further refined the standards and examples for interpretation. Jameson 2020 covers the philosophical approaches and techniques exemplified by leading international organizations that have led to more-effective strategies for site protection and cultural heritage interpretation through enhanced public stewardship. The decades since the late 20th century have witnessed a dynamic period of evolving standards and philosophy in public archaeology and heritage interpretation. Philosophical approaches and techniques exemplified by the US National Park Service’s Interpretive Development Plan (IDP) program, the National Association for Interpretation’s (NAI’s) Certification & Training Program, and Interpret Europe’s European projects on heritage interpretation have formed a basis for the development of international definitions, standards, and collaborative approaches that lead to more-effective strategies for site protection and interpretation through enhanced public stewardship. Ham 2013 and Larsen 2011 are good examples of these broad overviews. A concentration on cultural (apart from natural) heritage interpretation has been supported by the US National Park Service (NPS) (National Park Service 2019). Discussions on issues such as authenticity and inclusiveness continue to dominate international debates about the significance and proper use of sites (ICOMOS 1994, cited under Guidelines and Charters). The challenges for international relevance and application posed by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Ename Charter initiative (ICOMOS 2008, cited under Guidelines and Charters) form the center of future debates and deliberations. Silberman 2013 outlines the movement away from a “Tildenian conception of ‘heritage’” as an unquestioned good that can be unproblematically interpreted and a strictly didactic approach to a new paradigm that calls for heritage interpretation to be an informed and inclusive group activity, a facilitated dialogue among professionals and nonprofessionals. Smith 2006 and Smith 2012 contend that heritage is how the past becomes “active and alive” in the present, where authenticity is a key and underlying concept in community practice. The author rejects the Western notion of heritage as material fabric where the dominant “authorized heritage discourse” (AHD) is concomitant with the traditional power and knowledge relationships of technical experts.

  • Beck, Larry, and Ted T. Cable. 2002. Interpretation for the 21st century: Fifteen guiding principles for interpreting nature and culture. 2d ed. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

    This volume is a main reference for professional interpreters that enhances the reader’s understanding of how to interpret cultural and natural heritage. The fifteen guiding principles in this book assist anyone who works in parks, forests, wildlife refuges, zoos, museums, historical areas, nature centers, and tourism sites to conduct their work more effectively. The book serves as inspirational reading for students internationally and has been translated into Chinese.

  • Ham, Sam H. 1992. Environmental interpretation: A practical guide for people with big ideas and small budgets. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

    This is the first major “how to” book on public interpretation with an emphasis on environmental heritage. Written for those with limited resources, and drawing on decades of his own experience and his colleagues worldwide, Ham presents an unusually diverse collection of low-cost, effective techniques that really work. Readers learn how to communicate ideas more forcefully, and why these methods work. It is written for laypersons and experts alike.

  • Ham, Sam H. 2013. Interpretation: Making a difference on purpose. Golden, CO: Fulcrum..

    This is an update to Ham’s seminal 1992 Environmental Interpretation on general interpretation methods and practice. He draws on then-recent advances in communication research and introduces the concept of the zone of tolerance (i.e., whether the thoughts expressed by the audience are within interpreter’s zone of tolerance or acceptance; if so, some changes are required in the interpreter’s approach). The book provides real-world solutions to practicing interpreters and for evaluating success.

  • Jameson, John H. 2020. Cultural heritage interpretation. In Encyclopedia of global archaeology. 2d ed. Edited by Claire Smith. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    This is a comprehensive overview outlining a dynamic period from previous decades of evolving standards and philosophy. The article covers the philosophical approaches and techniques exemplified by leading international organizations that have formed a basis for the development of international definitions, standards, and collaborative approaches that lead to more-effective strategies for site protection and interpretation through enhanced public stewardship.

  • Larsen, David L., ed. 2011. Meaningful interpretation. 2d ed. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National.

    This book is a training and learning tool for interpreters. Using a personal-journaling format, this volume includes questions, text, exercises, and the insights of colleagues. It prompts the reader to explore the relationship of tangible resources to their intangible meanings, the role and purpose of interpretation, and the responsibilities of professionalism. It captures the philosophy, best practices, and benchmark curriculum of the NPS’s IDP.

  • National Park Service. 2019. Interpretation for archeologists: A guide to increasing knowledge, skills, and abilities.

    Inspired by the NPS Shared Competency Module 440 of 2000, and first launched online in 2004, Interpretation for Archeologists follows a resource-based approach to interpretation that complements archaeological resources and their meanings. It shows how interpretive products use archaeological evidence to encourage the public to form meaningful, personal connections with past peoples and places and the resources that evidence their stories. The aim is to educate and to inspire, but also to engender a stewardship ethic.

  • Silberman, Neil A. 2013. Heritage interpretation as public discourse: Towards a new paradigm. In Understanding heritage: Perspectives in heritage studies. Edited by Marie-Theres Albert, Roland Bernecker, and Britta Rudolff, 21–34. Berlin: De Gruyter..

    In this seminal paper, Silberman outlines the movement away from a “Tildenian conception of ‘heritage’” as an unquestioned good that can be unproblematically interpreted and a strictly didactic approach to increase public support for conservation. This approach, he says, flies in the face of seemingly irreconcilable conflicts over what heritage is significant and how it should be interpreted. The new paradigm calls for heritage interpretation to be an informed and inclusive group activity, a reflection of evolving community identity, and a facilitated dialogue among professionals and nonprofessionals.

  • Smith, Laurajane. 2006. Uses of heritage. London and New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203602263

    In this seminal work, the author contends that heritage is how the past becomes “active and alive” in the present, a multilayered performance that embodies acts of remembrance and commemoration, at the same time constructing a sense of place and belonging in the present, where authenticity is a key and underlying concept. Smith rejects the Western notion of heritage as material fabric of monumentality and aesthetics, where the dominant “authorized heritage discourse” (AHD) is concomitant with the traditional power and knowledge relationships of technical experts.

  • Smith, Laurajane. 2012. Discourses of heritage: Implications for archaeological community practice. Nuevo Mundo / Mundos Nuevos.

    DOI: 10.4000/nuevomundo.64148

    This paper summarizes previous arguments about the existence and nature of a Western and Eurocentric AHD and examines the consequences this discourse has for archaeological practices associated with community engagement and outreach. This discourse frames archaeology heritage practices and works to conceive heritage as specifically “archaeological heritage.” Smith argues that archaeologists need to engage in self-conscious and explicit challenges to this discourse to facilitate meaningful community partnerships.

  • Tilden, Freeman. 1957. Interpreting our heritage. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    This is a long-used sourcebook for those who are responsible for and who respond to interpretive materials. Tilden’s six principles, involving provocation, audience relevance, going beyond a recitation of facts, interpretation as an art form, the development of themes, and not diluting information for younger audiences, have guided both natural and cultural heritage interpretation worldwide, with only minor edification, for over half a century.

  • Walker, Kaye, and Gianna Moscardo. 2014. Encouraging sustainability beyond the tourist experience: Ecotourism, interpretation and values. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 22.8: 1175–1196.

    DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2014.918134

    This article studies the potential of interpretation within ecotourism environments to contribute to sustainability. Data collected from passengers on cruise ships explored links between aspects of the overall tourist experience and tourist perceptions of the benefits of these experiences. A value model of interpretation (VMI) is offered that attempts to integrate theories of effective interpretive practice with a goal of enhancing tourist mindfulness and reflective engagement and consequent adoption of responsible behaviors beyond the interpretation experience.

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