Both interpreters and archeologists should be aware of the range of our responsibilities to visitors, associated communities, and the resources themselves. Interpreters and interpretation, archeologists and archeology work together in an open dialogue about the meanings of resources and the methods to impart their relevance to visitors. Interpreters know how important it is to consider the audience and the most effective ways to communicate. Archeologists are aware of the demanding ethical standards of their profession and the definitions and contexts for archeological materials. Together, they can design effective interpretations that promote stewardship and reach all parts of the interested public.
What makes a profession?
- 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
A student learns about taking appropriate notes for archeological work. (NPS)
Archeologists are researchers into the past who may find themselves in front of a classroom of dig-happy fifth graders, a mixed crowd of summertime vacationers, or even a group of lobbyists and politicians. The interpretations of archeology enable professionals to discuss what they do and generate further public interest in it. It is through communicating what you do and showing why it is significant that you fulfill your responsibilities to the public’s curiosity.
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. 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 a difficult thing to do, 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. As archeologists in national parks, we facilitate the public’s relationship with resources and the information provided by them.
You are responsible for taking advantage of interpretive opportunities. Remember that the interpretation of archeological meanings reflects not only your own work, but represents the role of your park and the NPS in providing professional leadership on cultural resources management. To affect the profession, 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.
In 1940 NPS archeologist Dale King advised the custodians of the Southwestern National Monuments:
We must not herd our charges like a group of cattle. We must present our wares so enticingly that the visitor himself desires to partake of them … And if there are visitors who wish to make their way undisturbed by formal guides and guiding, we must perfect a technique so that these "untouchables" are unruffled by the little man who is there in the green uniform. …
In "Scope and Function of the Interpretation Program of the Southwestern National Monuments," in Report of Meeting of Custodians, Southwestern National Monuments, Feb. 14-16, 1940, History Division, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.