Nate Hess is a Penn State History major, and this summer he is a Richards Center intern at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Nate will be blogging occasionally about his experiences as a newly minted park ranger at one of the most popular Civil War parks.
Hello. My name is Nate Hess, and I've just finished my first week of training as a National Park Service intern at Gettysburg National Military Park. The week has been fairly hectic, almost overwhelming. Even so, I've been learning an awful lot. Not only have I been totally immersed in a pool of knowledge surrounding the names, dates, and other gritty details of the battle; I have also been learning about a very new concept, known as interpretation. Interpretation is the key to what the Interpretive Park Rangers do every single day, and now to what I'll be doing almost every day this summer. Conceived by the Park Ranger Freeman Tilden in 1957, interpretation, in its simplest form, is the art of causing a visitor to connect intellectually and viscerally with the resources of the park, particularly its hallowed landscape.
This is accomplished through programs in which a ranger takes the resources of the park and verbally transforms the "tangible" aspects, such as a tree or a stone wall, into an "intangible" idea, such as strength, vitality, or loss. As visitors begin to ponder and relate to these ideas, they begin to understand the "story" of Gettysburg in tangible ways, developing a deep connection with the park's resources. There are a couple of ideas at work here. On one level, the park uses interpretation to educate visitors. On another level, park rangers hope the visceral connection visitors feel for the physical landscape will encourage them to care for the resource and wish to protect it. This protection can take many forms, such as merely taking care to stay on paths, donating their time as volunteers, or going as far as taking steps to become a Park Ranger.
During the early part of my training, then, I've been learning just how important interpretation is to the Park Service. Through the Interpretive Rangers, not only is the public educated about the resources that they are enjoying, but they gain a deeper appreciation for those resources. And interpretation encourages visitors to become supporters or stewards of the park, aiding the Park Service in their ongoing mission to preserve this historical resource and continue educating the public. That is what interpretation is all about, and as I begin to learn interpretive techniques I can't think of a cooler way to spend a summer.