Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tourists, And The Vital Importance of Beauty.

I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT PARK rangers rescued picnic baskets from bears and verbally snapped at little critters. I always thought of them more as law enforcement rather than cultural guides (maybe it's the badges?). I think that says something - I can't be the only person influenced by popular culture, can I?

I never would have considered the rangers to be the middlemen of history and/ or information. I'm used to green-clad men and women barking at me, "Put that dog on a leash!"

Tourists (and the occasional rogue local) need to be herded, and rangers do a fine job.

I'm not sure if I buy into Freeman Tilden's idyllic notions of rangers as provocateurs, though I do admire his thinking.

His principles, as stated in Interpreting Our Heritage, seem to be applicable beyond the rangers, interpreters or even historians. I see lessons to be learned in journalism, and especially in teaching. The text is really a pedagogical outline.

The presenter needs to be aware of the audience, inviting them to participate - even if only in their minds. Reaching that personal connection is key. I think interpreting is not the best word, but providing context is invaluable. Striving to make people think and ask questions, I believe, should be the goal of every person, regardless of occupation. Using your mind means you are alive.

The danger, I imagine, is in the views of the interpreter. All information is analyzed, edited, and processed, meaning the audience may hear a compelling, one-sided narrative rather than the documented history.

The transformation of Louisa May Alcott's home, Orchard House, is a great example. The home served the mindset of the time it was turned into a monument (early 20th century) rather than the middle 18th-century era of Alcott's famous book, Little Women. Alcott's post-publication suffragist activities are largely ignored. Patricia West argues that the Alcott home preservationists used the home to champion social and political agendas of the time - primarily the anti-immigrant/ traditional values ethos held forth by Anglo-Saxons.

I agree with Richard Handler and Eric Gable when they write that history can't be presented as it was, especially in a living setting like Williamsburg. Our understanding of history changes, and the presentation needs to change as well. They argue that the Tilden-esque idea of audience awareness creates an atmosphere where the audience is left comfortable - and the ugly truths (i.e. slavery) do not get proper treatment.

I think that, however, is a harsh example of Tilden's principles at work.

Perhaps it's connected to the stage of life during which he wrote (most of) this book but Tilden, to me, seems to be a man who enjoys life. He sees nature and he is in awe. He waxes poetically about the amateur, the happy person who does things for the love of it, not for material gain or fame.

He pines for a renaissance of the appreciation of beauty, and not just the superficial appearance. He wants people to experience things.

I wonder if tourists have that ability.

ON A SIMILAR BUT UNRELATED TOPIC: Deer culling at Valley Forge National Historic Park? They want to kill around 1,100 deer over the next few years, leaving fewer than 200 remaining. The deer pose a threat to drivers, apparently.

Hey gas guzzlers - how about you move away from the deer, dumbasses? They were there first.



    To avoid as little less than correct information being passed on. The deer management plan has more to do with habitat than the drivers. There is care about them...but it's really more about the rest of the ecosystem, because the environment of the park cannot sustain a herd of 1500 (it should be about 400).

  2. I still say boo!

    Killing defenseless animals? That's not a solution. That's slaughter.

    They call murdering animals lured by bait "an effective, science-based plan?" Nice.

    I hope the government never decides that our cities are too densely populated with people.

    - George
    (the outraged citizen who is impossible to outrage ... nice job US government)