TellTale intern, Slovenian interpreter, Janja Sivec writes:
How can we sustain our face-to-face interpretation? A lot of smaller heritage sites are faced with this dilemma. Face to face is an important tool of interpretation, if not the most important. But what happens when it depends on one leader?
How do we prevent that person being overwhelmed?
Sitting in a stone built house with red windows and doors up on the hill overlooking tough Irish landscape, we watched Martin stoke the fire and put on pieces of peat. The room filled with smoke and a smell so unfamiliar to me.
He took some time, in which you are left with silence – soaking in the atmosphere, listening to the harsh winds of West Ireland and the clapping of the shutters against the small windows that are so important to this story.
He told us the story of Dan O’Hara, a farmer who was forced out of his home and his country. A broken man who was left with nothing. A story that would have been just one of many, if there was not a song made about him. Martin sings it to conclude his tale:
Sure it’ poor I am today,
For God gave and took away,
And left without a home poor Dan O’Hara
With these matches in my hand,
In the frost and snow I stand
So it’s here I am today your brokenhearted
The story of farmer Dan O’Hara is a story like so many others in Ireland. But this one is special because it is the story heard direct from a man about a man who lived in the same place 150 years ago. That special connection that the interpreter feels is transferred to visitors.
Sometimes face to face interpretation is the only thing that brings stories to life and helps you feel that connection to the site, heritage and past generations. I have seen this lots of time in Slovenia and also when traveling.
Facing this, I have asked myself on several occasions, what happens when everything is dependent on one person and that person can no longer do the work? Can somebody else tell the story with the same intensity? Or is the only solution to replace face to face interpretation with non-personal interpretation media?
The obvious answer is to find some one else that feels the connection and can tell the story with the same passion and dedication. Easier said than done? Probably yes.
The other answer is to other tools of interpretation like video, leaflets, panels …
It can be quite a dilemma.
Two small heritage attractions, one in Slovenia, the other in Ireland both face this issue.
1. Including young people in face to face interpretation
Beškovnikova Homestead is a high hill farm situated in northern Slovenia in the Pohorje range of hills. It is well preserved architectural heritage. One part of the farm is still in full usage, the other half is run by a civic society. Living at 850 metres and higher means that they are far away from big centres and are tightly connected as a community. They have recognized the heritage potential of this old farm and decided to preserve it.
They have been running the site now for 10 years. Receiving school groups, bus tours and individual visitors. The visit is based on face to face interpretation by one man. Viktor has been leading tours for many years, but he has realized that he can not do it to that extent any more.
He decided that the best thing would be to involve young people from that community. They showed great interest, because they feel very connected to their village, people and heritage. Together we changed the interpretation of the Beškovnikova Homestead. We needed to find new connections in their face to face interpretation. They can not talk, like Viktor does, about how it was to live without tractors, fridges, telephones, electricity etc. but they can relate to how we live today and how they lived in the past.
2. Using non personal tools of interpretation
At the Dan O’Hara Homestead in Connemara, west Ireland, that I wrote about above. they are thinking about how to replace Martin’s face to face interpretation by using videos, leaflets and panels.
The video is a good presentation of Dan O’Hara’s life story and shows visitors how people lived in the first half of 19th century in this part of Ireland. It prepares you for your visit at Dan O’Hara Homestead located up on the hill.
They have an exhibition on history of the region and Dan O’Hara Homestead. They are also thinking of renewing leaflets that would offer a map of homestead and some basic information on heritage. Still, in my mind, doubt remains, if that can replace Martin’s story.
Personally I have still not found the answer. What I do know is, if we want to preserve our heritage we have to preserve our stories.
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