Weekly readings: interpretation and its costs

This week’s readings all explore aspects of collaboration. Tilden emphasizes the importance of an interpretation’s relevance to the audience: that is the only way to keep their attention, instill information and, most importantly, provoke them. An interpreter must develop a presentation he or she believes will resonate with audiences; this can then be tweaked based upon the needs and reactions of a specific group. By tailoring content for the audience, the interpreter engages a collaborative process; and the audience’s use of the interpreter’s presentation (e.g. never ever taking a lit cigarette into the woods again) is in a sense a result of their processing (another layer of interpretation, reactive and collaborative) of the interpreter’s message. Frisch explores issues of shared authorship of oral histories. The person interviewed does not simply regurgitate information, and public historians should not simply redistribute facts. The democratized historical consciousness Frisch champions would emerge from precisely the sort of provocation Tilden advocates. Hurley’s case studies involve collaboration between community organizations and public historians and archaeologists. The historians and archaeologists are useful resources, providing expertise, personnel, and funding, facilitating community engagement, and producing tangible deliverables…but they work toward community-defined goals, with constant input from members of the communities in which they work. In these three texts, one cost of interpretation is control. The benefit is a more focused, nuanced, and useful product.

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