It will take me a while to fully digest the last few days. A conference with a theme of “sensitive heritage, sensitive interpretation“, and that includes field trips to sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, is hardly going to be lightweight stuff. A lot of us frequently found ourselves in a reflective mood, and it was interesting to share thoughts and feelings with other delegates, often coming from very different perspectives (in the order of 30 countries were represented). The conference was small enough (around 100 delegates) that you had a chance to meet more or less everyone, however briefly, and this reinforced the sense of us all having a shared experience.
The conference had a good balance of theoretical and practical sessions, so I’m left with much to ponder as well as things I’m keen to try out once I get home. Although there were plenty of long days, most days had the format of a morning keynote, parallel sessions before lunch, and then a field trip running into the evening. This offered a welcome change of pace that helped counter the “session fatigue” you can get when spending whole days in seminar rooms.
Some quick take aways, which I hope to expand upon in future blog posts:
- James Carter and Patrick Lehnes’ session on Interpretive Philosophy: interpretation can be seen to have a foot in both the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Both have their benefits and pitfalls. But I find this an interesting framework for thinking about the different sides of a controversial heritage topic.
- Nicole Deufel’s research on “preferred readings” and the interesting differences revealed between English and German visitors to site related to their respective national histories.
- Visitor journey mapping as a way of conceptualising all facets of the visitor experience in a holistic way (workshop by Jane Beattie and Chuck Lennox)
- The transition from “history” to “memory”. This was a common thread throughout several sessions, but it crystallised for me during Roger White’s session on interpreting industrial heritage. Similarly to how I’ve described before, it struck me how there is a qualitative difference between heritage related to the recent past (i.e. within a generation of the people who actually lived through it) and that related to more distant times. More recent heritage also seems to be the more sensitive, controversial or contentious. It also presents interpretive and management challenges when a site’s story makes the transition from a “memory” era (within the last 75-125 years typically), to a “history” era (the past as a foreign country).
- High quality, atmospheric exhibition design at both the John Paul II birthplace museum and the Schindler Factory Museum.
- Finally, Eva Sandberg’s reminder that controversy is an opportunity: if a topic is controversial, it means it’s relevant, and that people care about it. Controversial and relevant trumps bland and boring.
Now it’s time to head off to Trento for ECSITE 2015. . . .