The history of interpretation can be traced back to ancient times when humans first started to recognize and appreciate the significance of their cultural and natural surroundings. However, the formal development of interpretation as a discipline began in the mid-20th century. Here is a brief overview of its history:
Early Developments: The roots of interpretation can be found in the field of nature interpretation, which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Naturalists and park managers started to provide guided tours and educational programs to help people connect with and understand the natural environment.
Freeman Tilden and "Interpreting Our Heritage" (1957): One of the most influential figures in the history of interpretation is Freeman Tilden, an American National Park Service employee. In his book "Interpreting Our Heritage," published in 1957, Tilden laid out the principles and techniques of effective interpretation. He emphasized the importance of understanding the visitors' perspectives and using storytelling to engage and inspire them.
Growth and Professionalization: In the following decades, interpretation gained recognition as a profession. Organizations such as the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) in the United States and Interpretation Canada were established to promote standards, training, and networking among interpreters. The field expanded beyond natural heritage to include cultural heritage, historic sites, museums, and other related areas.
Shifting Approaches: Over time, the approach to interpretation evolved from a didactic and authoritative style to a more participatory and visitor-centered approach. Interpretive programs began to focus on creating meaningful and personal connections with the heritage, encouraging visitors to explore and discover on their own terms.
Technology and Innovation: With the advancement of technology, interpretation has embraced new tools and techniques. Audio guides, interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations, virtual reality, and mobile applications are now commonly used to enhance the visitor experience and provide access to information in engaging ways.
Global Recognition: Interpretation has become an international discipline, recognized and practiced in various countries around the world. Many local and international organizations promote collaboration and exchange of ideas among interpreters globally.
Today, interpretation continues to evolve, incorporating inclusive practices, sustainable approaches, and a deeper understanding of diverse cultural perspectives. This form of communication plays a vital role in engaging visitors, fostering appreciation for heritage, and encouraging stewardship of natural and cultural resources.
ChatGPT, May 23, 2023,What is the history of heritage interpretation?, with edits