Interpretation

inside a ruin

Interpretation

As you carry out your project you will, no doubt, uncover many fascinating stories about the buildings and settlements you have been investigating and the people who built, lived and worked in them. The stories that these buildings and historical records reveal are full of drama and insight into people's everyday lives. They tell us how people made a living from farming, show how agricultural techniques developed over time, reveal how people shaped the land and give reasons why settlements were abandoned. On completion of your fieldwork and historical research you may want share your passion, enthusiasm and knowledge to let others discover and enjoy the stories you uncover. Interpretation, when done well, is a powerful tool that enhances the visitor's experience of your site; it is about more than telling them interesting facts. Good interpretation will provoke and stimulate visitors to think about what life on your site was like in the past and create memorable experiences for them to remember.

These notes will give a very quick and basic introduction to the process of planning your interpretation.

Further detailed information can be found in the books and websites at the end of this section.

Planning an interpretation project

When it comes to planning and creating a piece of interpretation for your site you are only limited by your imagination. However, before you even consider the type of media you might use, it is essential to define the key messages you want to convey, and decide what the outcomes of your interpretation are to be. Do you want to share your passion for your site and send visitors away with deeper insights into Scotland's Rural Past? The planning stage is your opportunity to think beyond producing the usual leaflet or board and pinpoint exactly what it is that makes your site special. Once you know this you can decide how you want visitors to feel about it and the impressions and experiences you want your visitors to go away with. Knowing your outcomes from the start will help guide your choice of interpretive media and enable you to produce an effective piece of interpretation.

Why do you want to interpret your site?
What is your motivation for creating a piece of interpretation anway? Is it to promote the site's conservation; produce a guide to sell and raise funds; managing visitors to the site or making the visit more enjoyable informative and memorable for them? Defining the reasons for your interpretation will steer you towards an appropriate format.

Who is the interpretation for?
You will need to know your audience. It is important to try to build a picture of your current or future visitors so that your interpretation will be relevant to them.

Who are they? Locals or visitors? Young or old?

Why do they come here? Do they have a specific interest in the site or are they site seers?

How many of them are there? Large groups or individuals?

How often do they come? Passers-by or more regular visitors?

Where are they from? Scotland or further afield?

What interests them? History and folklore? Architecture and archaeology?

How long do they stay? Brief visit or half a day?

Building a clear picture of your visitors will help you cater to them effectively.

What are you interpreting?
You need to think carefully about what you want to interpret. The key questions to ask is:

What is so special about your site?

What makes you so passionate about your site?

Good interpretation will communicate the enthusiasm you have for your SRP project.

What stories do you want your interpretation to tell?
You should group the information you wish to communicate into 'themes' - the ideas that you want visitors to take away and remember after their visit. You may like to interpret several themes at a single site, but as a guide you should be able to complete the following sentence for each one:

What I want people to remember from this piece of interpretation is..."

"What are your objectives?
What do you want the interpretation to do? There are four kinds of objectives which you may want your interpretation to have on visitors:

Learning objectives - what you want your visitors to know

Emotional objectives - what you want your visitors to feel

Behavioural objectives - what you want your visitors to do

Promotional objectives - how you want to present your community or organisation

What media do you want to use?
The choice of the type of media you use for your interpretation should only be determined once you have decided on your aims, resources, audience, site characteristics, themes and objectives. Deciding on your media from the beginning before considering each of these factors may make your interpretation less effective.

At this final stage you may like to consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of different interpretive media.

For example:

Medium

Graphic panels

 

Advantages

* Needs no supervision
* Can reach a large audience
* Low maintenance
* Easy for the audience to use
* Can combine text and pictures
* Can help orientate visitors

Disadvantages

* Are becoming ubiquitous and people might be starting to ignore them
* Can be intrusive on sites and the landscape
* Can be prone to vandalism

Guided walks

 

* Very effective form of interpretation
* Flexible
* Can present a complex story

* Only reach a small audience
* Need good marketing and administration

Publications

 

* Can be used on and off site
* Can contain more detail than a panel
* Can aid orientation

* Must be effectively distributed
* Regular reprints may be needed
* May be discarded as litter

Further reading

Carter, J.
Tourism and Environment Initiative, Inverness, 1997

Ham, S.
Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets
North American Press, 1992 ISBN 1555919022

Scottish Museums Council
A Closer Look
Scottish Museums Council and Interpret Scotland, 2001

Veverka, J. A.
Interpretive Master Planning
Falcon Press, 1994 ISBN 1560442743

Useful Websites

Association for Heritage Interpretation

British Archaeological Jobs and Resources

Heritage North

Interpret Scotland

Scottish Museums Council - interpretation

Scottish Natural Heritage - Introducing Interpretation

University of the Highlands and Islands

© Historic Environment Scotland - Scottish Charity No. SC045925.