Interpretation for Archeologists   5. Personal and Professional Responsibilities   Distance Learning

Professional Responsibilities

Interpreters, like archeologists, are guided by their professional standards and ethical principles. Interpreters hold responsibilities to the profession of interpretation, the NPS, and the resources - but most of all, to the public. They work in the public sphere to gain the public's trust and engage their hearts and minds. Likewise, archeologists have their own professional responsibilities. Archeologists are responsible for making archeology a resource to interpreters, to conducting interpretation in honest and appropriate ways, and promoting the benefits of archeology.

Interpreters and archeologists came to be professionals in similar ways, even if their professions seem very different. Characteristics of professions include:

  • Public service with social responsibility
  • Research-based foundation of knowledge
  • Specialized education and training
  • Responsibility of practitioners for application of standards
  • Programs of accreditation and certification
  • Established codes of ethics
  • Life-long learning

Why We Do, What We Do

Interpreters draw on professional societies and bureau leadership for guidance and purpose. Defining the purpose of interpretation helps its professionals to find direction. For archeologists, interpreters' statements on why they do, what they do may provide inspiration.

The National Association for Interpretation's mission is, “Inspiring leadership and excellence to advance heritage interpretation as a profession.”

The NPS Interpretation and Education Divison's states about interpretation that, “The primary purpose of interpretation is to enrich people’s lives through meaningful learning experiences and enjoyable recreation; preserve and protect natural and cultural resources through broad collaboration and shared stewardship; and inspire social and environmental consciousness to build community and sustain the health of the planet.”

Ethical Standards

It's important that interpreters, like archeologists, exhibit professional behaviors. Ethics statements provide guidance on appropriate ways to act.

The National Association for Interpretation establishes ethical standards for its officers and members, including:

  • Moral responsibilities not only to professional associates, fellow employees, and the public, but also to the resources
  • Display of the highest integrity, the best judgment, or ethics possible in using professional skills
  • Dealing fairly with members in the dissemination of professional information and advice
  • Maintaining high standards of professional and business conduct and behavior.

Likewise, archeologists are held to ethical standards. Review them at:

What Does It Mean?

Interpreters and archeologists are held to a high professional standard by the public. The public face of interpretation, be it a a literal face-to-face ranger tour or through an educational brochure, is guided by purpose, ethics, and behaviors that aim to reflect the best the profession has to offer.

Present accurate information, with balance:
One of the responsibilities of interpreters of archeology is to provide accurate and balanced information about multiple perspectives, but also to recognize that this kind of interpretation is a tool that allows for respect and communication. Your responsibility is to know the most up-to-date historical and scientific information about a topic. You should be able to present a topic from multiple perspectives, in order to show that there are many ways of interpreting an idea or an event.

Keep your inner voice on low volume:
Part of being a professional is knowing when to keep personal opinions and beliefs private. Interpreters must set aside their own passions or preferences for a particular point of view to allow the audience to form their own beliefs. This can be difficult, but know that it is important for enabling people to form their own beliefs and for cultivating a safe place for people to discuss their beliefs without feeling judged.

Seize the moment:
You are responsible for taking advantage of interpretive opportunities. You must first affect a memorable change within visitors, moving them to see a kaleidoscope of meanings with critical and wondering eyes. It’s up to you to provide opportunities for emotional and intellectual connections to the meanings of the resource, while allowing the leap of caring and concern to belong to visitors.

Represent something larger:
When you work in interpretation, it reflects not only your work, but the work of your park and the NPS in providing professional leadership on archeology. But keep in mind, too, the impact you can have through interpretation on the public's perception of archeology and the stories a place can teach.

For Your Information

Harris Interactive conducted a survey of public attitudes regarding archeology. Read the report, Exploring Public Perceptions and Attitudes about Archaeology, to gain insight on public support for archeology.

MJB/EJL