Project Title

Making History Accessible: The US Experience


The focus of my 2010 fellowship was to look at how the US National Park Service (NPS) presents the wealth of factual information about the sites they manage in an accessible way. In the heritage industry we call this “interpretation”. The reason I chose the NPS was that it was they who defined the concept of interpretation back in the 1950s when writer Freeman Tilden wrote the book Interpreting Our Heritage on their behalf. This is still regarded as the definitive work on this subject and is still required reading for all students of the subject.

For my Fellowship I spent six weeks in New England, primarily around Boston, looking at sites managed by the NPS. Many people do not realise that, as well as managing natural sites such as Yosemite, the NPS also manages a huge number of historic buildings and museums around the US. For example, Alcatraz and the Statue of Liberty are both managed by the NPS.

I visited a wide range of historic sites ranging from meeting houses where the American Revolution was plotted to the chapel that served as the inspiration for parts of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I met a large number of NPS employees, as well as some from other institutions, and saw a diverse range of ways of conveying historic information, from extremely animated guided tours to recreating historic gardens with school children