Chapter 1


--Before NPS

--The Park Service Assumes Responsibility

--Interpretation Institutionalized

Chapter 2

--Branching Into History

--The Importance of Historical Interpretation

--Inagurating the Program

--Historical Challenges

Chapter 3

--New Directions

--Audiovisual Innovations

--Museums, Visitor Centers, and the New Look

--Living History

--Environmental Interpretation

--Women in Interpretation

--Other Agendas

Chapter 4

--Interpreting Interpretation

Chapter 5

--Interpretation In Crisis






--Branching Into History

--New Directions

--Interpreting Interpretation

--Interpretation in Crisis



by Barry Mackintosh

The Importance of Historical Interpretation

Generally speaking, historical parks need interpretation more than natural and recreational parks do. Natural parks, typically encompassing spectacular or outstandingly scenic natural features, may be enjoyed aesthetically by most visitors regardless of whether they understand the geologic or biologic phenomena underlying them. Relatively few visitors to parks established primarily for active recreation are receptive to interpretive programs. But although many historical parks have aesthetic appeal and some accommodate active recreation, few can be greatly appreciated without some explanation of who lived or what occurred there. At historical parks, too, altered or missing features are often restored or reconstructed to better "tell the story." In far greater proportion than at parks established for other purposes, the Service's task at its historical areas--indeed, the basic rationale for its involvement with such areas--is interpretation.

B. Floyd Flickinger, the Service's first park historian, expressed the centrality of interpretation at historic sites thus:

If no other activities were ever contemplated or attempted, our first obligation, in accepting the custody of an historic site, is preservation. However, our program considers preservation as only a means to an end. The second phase is physical development, which seeks a rehabilitation of the site or area by means of restorations and reconstructions. The third and most important phase is interpretation, and preservation and development are valuable in proportion to their contribution to this phase. [1]

Superintendent John R. White of Sequoia National Park, who could not be accused of a historian's bias, shared the view that interpretation was most important in historical areas--or battlefields, at least:

The principal difference is that in a scenic park the visitor has a definite objective; he comes to see the colored canyons, the waterfalls, the big trees, the geysers and the wildlife. Incidental to this he may camp out of doors and be entertained by the nature guide service in walks and talks.
But the visitor to a Military or Battlefield park comes to visit the place where a great event in our history occurred. With due respect to historians all battlefields look much alike and there is monotony in lines of overgrown trenches or battery sites; as there is in museums with exhibits of arms, bullets, and records. Only a student or historian can pretend to be deeply interested in the details of each battle. For the average visitor it is necessary to compress the event into a comprehensive whole, and if possible to color and dramatize it to create interest and make lasting impressions.[2]

Likewise, Dale S. King, a Service archeologist, distinguished between the great scenic parks, "recreational and inspirational in character," and both the scientific and cultural monuments. In the former "appreciation is conditioned by vision, and not necessarily knowledge." In the latter "the intellectual response receives greater stimulation," requiring understanding for appreciation.[3]



Last Modified: July 9, 2000 09:35:00 pm PST

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