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NPS Archeology Guide > Archeology Outreach > 3. Education or Interpretation?

Education or Interpretation?

Education and interpretation have different goals. Although they have some overlapping elements, each is distinct in its approach and often in audience. Interpreters and educators should work together to develop outreach programs in order to benefit from each other's skills, knowledge, and experience. They should also work together to develop outreach programs that are relevant to a broad, diverse audience. Working together is particularly important for sensitive topics, such as items of cultural patrimony or race-based issues in history.


Education tends to refer to formal curricula, especially for children in grades K-12. Education also includes college and graduate work. Educators tend to present multiple points of view but expect a correct answer, use facts to support learning objectives, believe the retention of information to be paramount, and guide learners toward information that they need to learn.

Archeologists in the United States usually have degrees in Anthropology, although there are also other academic departments that train archeologists.

In the NPS, continuing education for practicing archeologists and other resource specialists is usually called Training.


Interpretation is different from formal education, not only because it typically occurs outside the classroom, but also because it often is provided to mixed and widely variable audiences that include adults. Interpreters tend to offer multiple points of view, lead audiences to personal revelations, encourage open-ended dialogue, and believe the process to be as important as the end result. Of course, interpretation is often also educational! Forms include (but are not limited to) personal programs, public archeology digs, exhibits, and publications.

Working Together

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.

Education and interpretation are each important and useful approaches to enhancing the public benefits of archeological resources. Choose an approach after considering the audience and its needs, the resources and their stories, the goals of the outreach, time frame, and media involved.

Remember that: