[graphic] National Park Service Arrowhead and link to NPS  [graphic] National Park Service Arrowhead and link to NPS
[graphic] National Park Service Black Bar
[graphic] Link to National Register Publications Home Page
 [graphic] Link to National Register Home Page  [graphic] Link to National Register Research Home Page  [graphic] Link to National Register Travel Home Page  [graphic] Link to National Register Education Home Page  [graphic] National Park Service arrowhead and link to NPS.gov
 [graphic] Telling the Stories: Planning Effective Interpretive Programs for Properties Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

[graphic] Link to Next Page [graphic] Link to Table of Contents [graphic] Link to Previous Page

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service



This bulletin would not have been possible without the help of the many interpreters, both inside and outside of the National Park Service, who provided us with information about their programs. We received many more examples than could possibly fit into a single publication. Choosing which ones to use was a challenging assignment. We want to thank everyone who responded to our request for examples. You all have ample reason to take pride in your work.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of their colleagues at the National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, especially Carol D. Shull, Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places; the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; and the Interpretation Division, National Park Service, particularly Sandy Weber, who played a central role getting us started. Antoinette Lee, Heritage Preservation Services Program, wrote large sections in the historic background section. Kathy Tevyaw, Boston Support Office, National Park Service, and Elizabeth Hoermann, Lowell National Park, National Park Service, provided the bibliography on educational resources. Marie Tyler McGraw, Park History, National Park Service, contributed the list of references on telling the whole story. Beth Boland, National Register of Historic Places, and Marty Perry, Kentucky Heritage Council, provided thoughtful and extremely helpful comments.

This publication has been prepared pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, which directs the Secretary of the Interior to develop and make available information concerning historic properties. This National Register Bulletin was developed under the general editorship of Carol D. Shull, Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. Beth L. Savage, architectural historian, National Register of Historic Places, is responsible for publications coordination. Sarah Dillard Pope provided editorial and technical support. Comments on this publication should be directed to the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, National Register, History and Education, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, NW, Suite NC400, Washington, DC 20240.


Our nation's history lives on in its historic places. Places where history happened are powerful witnesses to the reality of past events, individual achievements, dramatic change, and past lifeways. Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or the USS Arizona Memorial, in Honolulu, Hawaii, link us to great moments in our common past. The mysterious cliff dwellings of the Southwest awe us with their haunting images of the remote past. Restored historic houses and gardens and tree-lined, turn-of-the-century neighborhoods seem to represent the beauty of America at its best. Others places teach us about past contradictions and struggles that we dare not forget. The Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, now green and peaceful, reminds us that our society has often been divided by conflict, and that those who lived in the past faced decisions no less difficult than the ones we face today. Historic Central High School (now Little Rock High School) in Little Rock, Arkansas, which became a national symbol of the controversy over school desegregation in the 1950s, remains a pivotal landmark in the story of the Civil Rights Movement.

Most historic places represent the everyday lives of ordinary people. Small country schools in Washington state recall the homesteaders of the late 19th century, who uprooted their families to settle in remote and isolated areas. Factories in eastern cities testify to generations of new Americans laboring long hours to make lives for themselves and their families. Both lovingly restored train stations and abandoned rail yards document the railroads that played a central role in American life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Places related by location reveal the histories and collective aspirations of whole communities. How communities interacted with one another through cooperation or conflict can tell us much about regional, or even national, values. The shared history these places embody makes America. We need to know that they exist and will continue to exist for future generations.

The stories of tens of thousands of these places are documented in the National Register of Historic Places--stories about people, the places they came from, the reasons they came, the lives they led, their work, their families, and their connections with other members of the community and with the outside world. In many cases, these stories were unknown until research undertaken in preparation for nominating the places for listing in the National Register revealed them.

Most of these places do not speak to us directly. Their stories need to be "interpreted" before people can understand them. The language they speak needs to be translated in order to communicate clearly. Many historic places are already seeking ways to share their stories with the public. Others have not yet gone beyond the first step--preparation of a National Register nomination form. If the stories discovered in the course of obtaining National Register listing go no further than the National Register archives, they are fulfilling only part of their potential. We have an obligation to communicate the powerful stories these places have to tell to the public. Only in this way can we inspire the passion, commitment, and action that is necessary to ensure that the places we care about will survive to educate future generations. Historic places that are valued will be preserved.

The Purpose of This Bulletin

This bulletin is intended to help individuals and organizations develop effective programs to convey the meaning of historic places to the public using the information in National Register registration documentation and other sources. Groups which might find it useful include not only museums and historic sites, but also local historical societies, schools, historic property owners (including non-profit organizations), chambers of commerce, local civic or improvement organizations, planning or preservation commissions, architectural review boards, Main Street programs, private developers taking advantage of the investment tax credit, downtown revitalization groups, and local or state tourism offices.

Telling the stories of historic places to the public can expand understanding of the mission of federal, state, local, and tribal governments striving to protect historic properties, create support for historic preservation efforts, make private preservation projects more profitable, encourage individual initiative in protecting aspects of a community's heritage, and, in the process, improve the quality of life in and even the chances of survival of communities nationwide. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the past lives on as a vital and living part of American communities. Listing in the National Register plays an important role in achieving that goal. Using the information in National Register documentation to convey the meaning of historic places to the public can continue that contribution after the property is listed. Without the understanding and commitment of the general public, none of these efforts ultimately can hope to succeed.

The bulletin is organized in six major sections. The first addresses the long-standing relationship between historic preservation and education. The second section discusses the role of the National Register. The third section defines interpretation for the purpose of this bulletin. The fourth outlines a simple planning process for developing effective interpretation programs. This will provide a framework for selecting the most appropriate interpretive media from the examples identified in the fifth section. Each topic discussed here has been studied by specialists within the growing field of interpretation and interpretive planning. The final section provides a list of places to go for further information. Examples of exciting and innovative interpretive programs are given throughout the bulletin.

[graphic] Link to Next Page [graphic] Link to Top of Page [graphic] Link to Previous Page

National Register Home | Publications Home | Previous Page | Next Page
Comments or Questions