This component establishes the foundation for Module
101: Fulfilling the NPS Mission: The Process of Interpretation,
by defining the interpreter as integral to the development
of the profession. It provides a set of ground rules
to establish a personal interpretive philosophy and
articulate ways in which interpretation contributes
to resource protection and stewardship.
Upon completion of this component the learner will be
to develop a personal philosophy of interpretation
connected to the evolution of the craft;
his/her personal obligation to establish a professional
foundation for day-to-day decisions about interpretive
methods and contributions to the NPS mission;
a mission-driven approach to interpretation which
incorporates both park management outcomes and audience
revelation, both of which lead to enhanced stewardship
of the resource.
Every interpreter must consider fundamental principles
when selecting an interpretive strategy for a program,
for a project, or when deciding how an interpretive
effort can contribute to resource protection. Important
choices are encountered throughout an interpreter's
career, and must be effectively articulated to supervisors,
managers, superintendents, and the public.
Previous approaches to training for new interpreters
included a detailed introduction to significant names
and dates, and references to important books. Often
this introduction was coupled with an exercise in writing
a personal definition of interpretation. This component,
Why We Do Interpretation, incorporates many important
aspects of the former approach with a strengthened sense
of individual responsibility. Interpreters must search
for understanding of the process of interpretation,
its roots, its purpose in fostering resource stewardship,
and the direction which they will take both as individuals
and as professionals. Interpreters must be able to articulate
the outcomes of interpretation so they can make personal
choices in approach and establish the relevance of interpretation
for managers making resource decisions. In this way
the contributions of interpretation may be added to
the other important functions in resource protection.
The interpreter needs a clear understanding that interpretation
moves beyond a recitation of scientific data, or historical
names and dates, or chronologies, or descriptions of
how tall, deep, wide or big. Public recognition and
support of their resource stewardship opportunities
is the larger role of interpretation.
This journey in professional development lasts throughout
a career. This component covers the present by laying
a foundation for why we do interpretation and by identifying
personal and professional obligations of the interpreter.
Additional components in this module continue the study
of the art by exploring essential elements of interpretation
in specific detail. This component may be approached
through mentoring, self-study, a detail assignment,
or formal instruction.
Changes in social/political climate between
1916 and present;
evolving concept of stewardship
How interpretation helps meet the National Park
Service mission (the profession's mission)
Perpetuates and represents the heritage of
the nation reflected in national park units;
Ensures the natural, cultural, and recreational
heritage reflected in the national park units
is available and accessible to everyone;
Provides experiences that strengthen the recognition,
understanding, enjoyment, and preservation
of the nation's heritage;
Creates the opportunity for audiences to ascribe
meanings to resources, leading to concern
for the protection of the resource. This revelation
is the seed of resource stewardship. This
is the goal of interpretation, not simply
information or facts.
C. How the interpreter helps promote the National
Park Service mission (the individual interpreter's
Uses the "through interpretation, understanding;
through understanding, appreciation; through
appreciation preservation" process;
Meets management objectives through facilitating
public participation in the stewardship of
Uses established primary and secondary
park themes to convey principle resource
messages to public;
Helps the public understand its relationship
and impact on resources;
Encourages the public to develop personalized,
proactive stewardship ethic;
Empowers the public to influence policy
to fulfill the National Park Service mission.
Personal and professional obligations of the successful
Accountability to the profession
Clearly defines the distinctions between
orientation/information, education, and
interpretation and the role each plays
in moving audiences toward stewardship
outcomes (an information/ interpretation
continuum). All staff, volunteers, cooperating
association employees, and concession
employees help make or break a visitor's
opportunity to move toward those stewardship
Develops a working knowledge in all methods
and modes of delivery, communication,
and props, not just in areas of personal
Continually improves resource knowledge
base and skill levels to be competent
in the broad range of interpretive environments;
Chooses and uses the appropriate vehicle
based on professional judgment, not personal
As a representative of the National Park
Service, projects a professional appearance
and manner at all times;
Understands that the profession has evolved
over time and that external/internal influences
continue to affect that evolution.
Understands the principles of professionalism
and practice standards indicative of a
Is sensitive to the fact that resources
have multiple intangible meanings;
Approaches audiences from multiple points
Acts as a facilitator and motivator;
Makes interpretive connections that are
broad based and accessible both intellectually
and physically. Efforts are designed to
touch a broad audience intellectually
and/or emotionally, and crafted in a way
to allow physical access.
Analytical / evaluative
Constantly evaluates the effectiveness
of programs, and audience needs and capability,
and adjusts them as needed to maintain
Engages in ongoing, constructive self-evaluations.
Incorporates influences of past leaders
such as Tilden, Muir, Mills, Lewis and
Actively participates in park operations
beyond the interpretive division;
Takes responsibility for integrating the
interpretive program into park operations;
Actively solicits and uses the input of
others (both NPS and non-NPS) in all aspects
of the interpretive operation;
Does not become territorial to the detriment
of overall park operations.
Adventures of a Nature Guide, Enos Mills, New Past Press,
the Icon: Exploring the Meanings Visitors Attached to
Three National Capital Memorials by Theresa L. Goldman,
W. Jasmine Chen, and David L. Larsen. Journal of Interpretation
Research. Volume 6, Number 1, 2001.
Part I (PDF, 1295KB) Part
Craft and Concepts of Interpretation: A Look at How
National Park Service Interpreters Reveal and Facilitate
Opportunities for Connections by W. Jasmine Chen. Doctoral
dissertation, 2003. West Virginia University. [On-line].
Environmental Interpretation, Sam H. Ham, North American
Press, 1992. Chapter One compares instruction to interpretation,
and discusses audience discretion.
Interpretation for the 21st Century: Fifteen
Guiding Principles for Interpreting Nature and Culture,
Larry Beck and Ted Cable, Sagamore Publishing, 1998.
in the National Park Service - A Historical Perspective,
Barry Mackintosh, NPS publication, 1986. This document
summarizes the development of the agency's interpretive
efforts, its media approach, and threats to interpretation
through the years.
for Park Visitors, William Lewis, Acorn Press, 1989.
This is a quick reference from one of the contemporary
leaders in the field. Easy reading, yet thoughtful and
Interpreting Our Heritage, Freeman Tilden, University
of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1957. Long considered
the standard. Tilden's words have found resonance in
this module of the curriculum.
Interpretive Process Model, NPS Interpretive Development
Program, 2002. The Interpretive Process Model provides
a framework for the development of interpretive programs
and products. It consists of a sequence of activities
that guide an interpreter to develop opportunities for
their audiences to make emotional and intellectual connections
to the meanings of the resource, as well as cohesively
develop an idea or ideas that are relevant to the resource
and the audience.
Interpretive Views: Opinions on Evaluating Interpretation
in the National Park Service, Gary Machlis, ed., a collection
of 24 essays by interpretive professionals on how to
evaluate the effectiveness of the interpretive opportunity
NPS Strategic Plan, 1996, Mission Statement, p. 5.
Interpretation: Connecting Your Audience to Heritage
Resources, Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman, National Association
for Interpretation, 2002. This book shares the traditions
and trends of developing interpretive programs. Several
elements of NPS IDP philosophy are discussed, including
the tenets, interpretive equation, tangible-intangible
links and universal concepts.
1. Learner should read at a minimum the texts listed
above by Tilden, Lewis, and Mackintosh, and read the
curriculum preface essay by Kryston.
2. Learner should carefully research the authorizing
legislation of her/his site, including the congressional
reports and supporting documents for the legislation.
Learner should also study the management plans for the
site, including the primary and secondary themes, principle
preservation issues, and the desired futures.
3. Learner must identify site's primary sources which
support the development of interpretive ideas, and become
thoroughly conversant with these sources before planning
their programs. This is an ongoing process.
4. Each learner should write a personal contract for
interpretation. This contract should be brief, and include
commitment to subject matter, dedication to audience,
perfection of skills, and personal desired outcomes
of his/her interpretive efforts. This is not a definition
of interpretation, but a statement of what he/she stands
for and wants to accomplish through interpretation.
(At its best, such a contract should start, "I believe.
. .") This contract should explore the concepts of interpretation
in the context of resource preservation and stewardship.
Without a personal grounding in what they stand for
or represent, and why they do interpretation, interpreters
will be hard pressed to explain how their contributions
to help meet the mission of the agency.
5. Learner may lead a discussion of interpretive views,
outcomes, and the contribution of the "team" to meet
the mission of the agency and/or specific site. This
discussion can be conducted with other divisions, with
partner organizations, or within interpretive division.
6. Learner may visit other sites to identify three interpreters
whom he/she considers effective in creating meaning
through use of tangible to intangible to universal linkages.
Afterward, learner should write a summary of why those
individuals were selected, and identify key interpretive
attributes of these individuals. This list should be
updated when appropriate. Learner is encouraged to establish
a mentor relationship with at least one of these individuals
to help develop professional abilities through discussions,
comparative examples of their work.