Interpretation for Archeologists   2. What is Interpretation?   Distance Learning

Interpretive Caricatures

The Division of Interpretation has created a set of common interpretive caricatures. Each captures elements of how some resource professionals approach the task. Consider as you read through them which elements relate to the various aspects of archeology, and keep them in the back of your mind as we go through the following sections. Remember that successful interpretation relies on aspects of all of them.

  • Interpredata
  • Presents multiple points of fact
  • Honestly presents the facts and nothing but the facts
  • Provides great detail to the facts
  • Believes the audience is interested only in information
  • Encourages factual dialogue
  • Allows the audience to maintain its own perspective - as long as it is factual

All successful interpretation is built on accurate and comprehensive information. Information by itself has little significance to the majority of visitors who don’t understand a subject’s broader meanings and context. Interpredata usually fails to help the audience make personal connections to the resource. It gets the information out to visitors, but so what?

  • Interpretainment
  • Stereotypes multiple points of view for effect
  • Arranges facts around a punch line
  • Oversimplifies
  • Comes from a perspective that the audience isn't truly interested in the meaning of the resource
  • Allows dialogue only when it is shallow and contributes to the entertainment value of the show
  • Does not care what the audience thinks, just how it reacts to the material

This perspective is satisfied with a pleasant visitor experience and values interpretation as entertaining. Certainly good interpretation engages attention and connects to audience interests, but interpretainment warps the concept. The result is a memorable personality or media presentation that fails to connect the audience to the resource itself. Interpretainment suggests ways to catch visitors, but it makes the delivery paramount to the meaning.

  • Interpreganda
  • Ignores multiple points of view
  • Dishonestly skews facts toward a forgone conclusion
  • Oversimplifies facts
  • Comes from a perspective that the audience is ignorant
  • Communicates in one direction by discouraging dialogue
  • Attempts to force the audience to see only one perspective

Audiences usually know when they are told how to think, and don't like it. Interpreganda is most effective for visitors that already share the stated point of view. An often well-intentioned and passionate insistence on a single perspective is manipulative, didactic, fails to provide broader relevance, and does not connect the audience to the resources. An interpreganda approach can actually drive a wedge between the visitor and the interpreter.

  • Interprecation
  • Presents multiple points of view, but includes a correct answer
  • Uses facts that support learning objectives
  • Believes retention of information is most important
  • Comes from the perspective that the audience needs to learn
  • Encourages dialogue, but guides conversation toward what the audience should know
  • Assumes that once the audience knows enough, they will agree

While education and interpretation are related and often overlap, they have significant differences. Educational goals are usually directed at the acquisition of knowledge and skill. Interpretation should support these goals and encourage partnerships with schools, elderhostels, and scout groups. These institutions have long-term influence over learning. Interpretation, however, is not measured by a test of knowledge at the program’s end. Rather, it facilitates an opportunity for people to make their own connections to meaning.

  • Interpretation
  • Presents multiple points of view
  • Honestly presents information that leads the audience to personal revelation
  • Isn't afraid of complexity
  • Treats the audience as intelligent people
  • Encourages dialogue
  • Allows audiences to express and maintain their own perspectives

The profession of interpretation has an important and individual responsibility. Interpretation provokes the discovery of personal meaning, connection, and stewardship for resources. It allows for and stimulates a conversation about multiple meanings and points of view.

Try it Yourself

Do you recognize your style in the caricatures? What is it? How might you want to change it?

To get a feel for each of these caricatures so that you can better recognize and avoid them, pick one of your favorite interpretive products and see how you could recast it as interpredata, interpretainment, interpreganda, or interprecation.

Use What You Know

Attend the same interpretive program at least twice so you can observe a different interpreter and a different audience each time for the same material.

Note the interpretive methods used. Identify any of the interpretive caricatures. Watch the faces and body language of the audience. How do they react to the various methods? Do some methods seem to evoke more engagement than others?

MJB/EJL