“Landscapes are not only shaped by cultural knowledge, but are places to articulate and  perform  cultural  beliefs;  they  are  performance  spaces  where  core  beliefs  underpinning society are enacted.” – Laura Peers, Playing Ourselves

Lady Washington speaks with visitors to Mount Vernon.

Interpretation is a vital aspect of living history sites. Historians compile evidence to answer questions about the past. They then present this information to visitors. While they interpret the information, good interpreters do not impose judgments regarding the past on their audience. Instead, the visitors are left to take the information presented to them and make their own decisions.

Interpreters can be broken down into different categories. “First-person character interpretation, in which costumed staff speak in the first-person present tense when informing visitors about the lives and times they portray in the museum’s environment, continues to be the most celebrated form of historiographic performance at living history sites.”[1] Costumed interpreters are not always presented in the first person. There is another category of third person interpretation. In these instances, interpreters dress in the garb of the time period they are discussing, but speak to the audience from a modern day perspective. The third grouping of interpreters are non-costumed individuals who discuss the history of the site.

Interpreter at Old Bethpage, Cooper House

Interpreters need to not only have an in depth understanding of the past, but also an ability to communicate that understanding to the public. They are crucial in fostering dialogues with visitors, which can highlight holes in education, as well as personal biases. By engaging with their audience and challenging preconceived notions, interpreters play an active role in educational experience of the visitors.






Click here to read a conversation with historical interpreter, Clarence Hickey.

Clarence Hickey, Button Farm

[1] Scott Magelssen, “Making History in the Second Person: Post-touristic Considerations for Living Historical Interpretation,” Theatre Journal 58 (2006): 292.

Published on December 1, 2010 at 7:30 pm  Comments Off on Interpretation  
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