This component describes the relationship between the
resource and the audience and how interpretation, by
presenting broadly relevant meaning, facilitates the
connection of the two.
Upon completion of this component the learner will be
the role of the resource, audience, and interpreter
and their relationships to one another and preservation;
tangible resources, intangible resources, and universal
concepts of their site;
and make tangible/intangible linkages of lesser
and broader relevance.
The tangible/intangible linkages and universal concepts
(TIU) model should be viewed as a description of effective
interpretation. It does not measure or provide a method
for developing specific programs.
The TIU model addresses the "so what" of interpretation
by describing the content of interpretive products:
relevance and provocation, information, and technique.
This model is not the only way to describe interpretation,
but is suggested as a useful way to get at the "meanings"
of the resource.
Effective use of the TIU model requires discipline and
ongoing practice. Practice allows the learner to internalize
the concepts and more easily identify interpretive opportunities.
The learner should be exposed to a variety of real interpretive
products and presentations and should identify the tangible/intangible
linkages and possible universal concepts for each. The
learner should also present several interpretive products
exhibiting tangible/intangible linkages for peer review.
Finally, the definitions of the words: tangible, intangible,
and universal concepts should be viewed flexibly. Some
intangibles that are not real things can be used in
very tangible ways to help the audience access broader
meanings. Likewise, it is open to debate whether some
concepts are truly universal. The learner should not
allow that debate to eclipse the fact that some concepts
provide broad relevance to a very diverse audience.
The actual categorization of a particular resource as
tangible, intangible, or universal concept can provoke
interesting discussion, but should not be allowed to
sidetrack the model. Learners should ultimately be allowed
to categorize specifics as they choose to.
I. The Relationship Between Resource, Audience, and
Definitions and Roles
Resources possesses meanings and relevance.
purpose of resource is meanings - resources
act as icons for meanings
individuals see different meanings in
the same resource
Audience seeks the special--something of value
entertainment and fun are part of it
audiences are on their own time
audiences are receptive to the special
Interpretation facilitates a connection between
the interests of the visitor and the meanings
of the park.
primary goal is not to provide information,
but to provide access to meanings
interpretation must occur on the terms of
the audience -- the audience is sovereign
providing accurate and balanced information
about multiple perspectives is the responsibility
of the interpreter - this is a tool that
allows for respect and communication
the interpreter must be able to subjugate
his or her own passions for and understandings
of the resource in order to allow the audience
to form theirs
Role of Interpretation in Preservation
Audiences must care about a resource before
they value the preservation of the resource.
The primary goal of interpretation is not to
preach preservation but to facilitate an attitude
of care on the part of the audience.
Preservation depends on audiences' access to
the meanings of the resource.
Linking Tangible Resources to Intangible Resources and
All parks have tangible resources like physical
features, buildings, artifacts, etc.
All parks have intangible resources like past
events, people, systems, ideas, values, etc.
All effective interpretation can be described
as linking tangible resources to intangible resources
in order to reveal meanings.
Some intangible anecdotes, events, people, and
easily understood concepts can be used in a tangible
Tangible/Intangible linkages provide varying degrees
of relevance for the audience.
Tangible/Intangible linkage graph
A tool: a graph represented by an x,y axis.
horizontal axis = "Tangible: information,
narrative, chronology" - further represents
the time the audience interacts with an
vertical axis = "Intangible: meanings" -
further represents relevance of the product
to the audience
The relationship (links) of tangible to
intangible or of information to meanings
in an interpretive product can be conceptually
plotted on this graph.
Interpreters can use the graph to describe intended
tangible/intangible linkages as well as identify
information and interpretive techniques that
support the effective delivery of an interpretive
Audience reception of interpretive products
can also be graphed.
differences between interpreter and audience
graph should be expected
as long as audience accesses meanings and
comes to care for the resource, the audiences
linkages do not have to mirror the interpreter's
intended relevant content
interpreters must realize interpretive intent,
technique, and presentation remain a critical
element of effective interpretation
The graph is only one description of interpretation
and should not be viewed as an inflexible structure.
An alternative illustration: a wheel
hub = tangible
tire or rim = intangible
spokes = information and interpretive techniques
III. Universal Concepts
Universal concepts provide the greatest degree
of relevance and meaning to the greatest number
Universal concepts are intangible resources that
almost everyone can relate to. They might also
be described as universal intangibles.
Not all people will agree on the meaning of or
share the same perspective towards a universal
concept, but all people will relate to the concept
in some significant way.
Universal concepts make meanings accessible and
the resource relevant to a widely diverse audience.
The implications of and techniques for presenting
universal concepts (universal concepts don't necessarily
have to be explained to be experienced or understood)
will differ from resource to resource. However,
all interpretation seeks to place the visitor
in relationship with broad meanings.
Tangible/intangible/universal concepts can be
captured and illustrated well by the theme of
the interpretive product. The cohesive development
of a relevant idea or ideas within an interpretive
effort of any kind is enhanced by making links
between tangibles, intangibles and universals.
Example: The rocks (tangible) of Yosemite
tell many stories of beauty, danger, and mystery
Achieving Excellence in Interpretation: Compelling Stories
Thinkbook, Rudd, Connie, 1995. A workbook designed to
help interpreters discover the compelling stories and
intangible and universal meanings associated with the
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].
for the 21st Century: Fifteen Guiding Principles
for Interpreting Nature and Culture, Larry Beck and
Ted Cable, Sagamore Publishing, 1998.
Interpretive Process Model, National Park Service,
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 Interpretive (R)evolution, brochure, Mayo, Corky,
Interpreting Our Heritage, Tilden, Freeman, University
of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1957. Long considered
the standard. Tilden's words have found resonance in
this module of the curriculum.
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 compile a written list of the reasons
why people do and should care about their sites. Then
learner should identify an object or place, a tangible,
that represents their site. Learner should make a list
of six events, systems, values, ideas, universal concepts
or other intangible resources that can be linked to
their tangible. Do the links reveal meanings? Will those
meanings help people care about the site as described
on the first list? Learner should discuss this assignment
with fellow interpreters and/or supervisor--do they
see meaning in the linkages?
"An Interpretive Dialogue" and Freeman Tilden
2. Learner should read "An Interpretive
Dialogue" and Freeman Tilden's "Interpreting Our
Heritage." Learner should write down thoughts that compare
one or more of Tilden's six principles to the tangible/intangible
model. Are they compatible? What might Freeman Tilden
say to Harold Durfee Nedlit?
3. Learner should graph a current interpretive product.
Learner should identify linkages, the information that
connects the linkages, as well as the interpretive techniques
used to present the product. Click here
to see an example.
4. Learner should create a new interpretive product
using the graph model.
5. Learner should graph interpretive products created
by other interpreters and then, if possible, compare
their own graph with the observed interpreter's graph.
6. Learner should have other interpreters graph one
of their own interpretive products and then compare
their graph to the graph used to develop the product.
7. Learner should create a list of universal concepts
and then study each item on the list and determine what
it means in the context of human history and culture
versus what it means in the context of Nature. What
are the differences? What are the similarities? Will
the conclusions allow for more fully integrated universal
concepts in interpretive products?
Tangibles, Intangibles, Universal Concepts
8. Learner should make a list of tangibles, intangibles,
and universal concepts specific to their resource. Learner
should choose items from each list and try to connect
them to the other two lists? Do any ideas for interpretive
9. Learner should keep the three lists handy as they
research or physically explore their site. When the
learner is provoked or finds personal relevance or meaning
in the resource, the learner should identify the tangible,
intangible, and universal concepts involved in their
own provocation. Do any ideas for interpretive products