Module: Heritage Interpretation

Module details

  • Module code

  • Module leader

    Dr Geraint Coles
  • Module Level

  • Module credits

  • Min study time

    150 hours
  • Contact hrs

    30 hours

Module content

Evidence of the past is all around us – how that evidence is interpreted, represented and presented to us is the subject of this course.
No interpretation of the past is value neutral and the same is true of how we represent and present that interpretation. In each case we can regard these interpretations as stories or narratives.  As consumers of those stories we need to be aware of potential inherent biases stemming from organisational or personal heritage of the person creating the story. The course therefore starts by examining and identifying inherent bias and unchallenged assumptions about the past. It seeks to identify how we can create rational and evidenced narratives while accepting our own inherent preconceptions.

Having established a reasoned interpretive narrative the course then explores through case studies the methods and techniques for representing and presenting that story to the public ranging from simple static displays to interactive dramatic performances. Key concerns of accessibility and the potential for educational or social exclusion are explored. The case is made for the concept of a balanced portfolio using variations in media to re-stimulate engagement. 

Students will have the opportunity to examine a number of heritage interpretation plans and offer their own critique of the proposals. 

The overall aim is that participants will be able to develop and communicate coherent, sustainable, approaches to the interpretation of heritage sites.

Module outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of interpretation and the interpretive narrative and an awareness of how this varies between users and communities and over time
  2. Illustrate knowledge and understanding of the main theoretical, methodological and practical approaches to the interpretation of buildings, sites, monuments and landscapes.
  3. Demonstrate a broad based understanding of the audience reach, costs and benefits of different approaches to interpretation
  4. Analyse, critically assess and comment creatively and constructively on an interpretation plan and be able to evaluate its appropriateness for a given site or collections


Assessment Description Weighting
Coursework An outline interpretation plan for a given heritage site (supported by an appendix containing plans, indicative display designs and images). The site will be selected during an initial plenary seminar. 3000 Words 100%

Assessments may differ in 2020/21 due to adjustments for Covid-19. Please check Gateway for the latest regulations.

Key texts

Essential resources:

  • Lindsay, A.  2019  Reconsidering Interpretation of Heritage Sites.  Routledge.  ISBN-10: 1629582719
  • Black, G. 2005  The Engaging Museum: Developing Museums for Visitor Involvement (Heritage: Care-Preservation-Management).  Routledge.  ISBN-10: 9780415345576
  • Bridal, T.  2013  Effective Exhibit Interpretation and Design.  Rowman and Littlefield.  ISBN-10: 0759121117
  • Brochu, L. & Merriman, T.  2015  Personal Interpretation: Connecting Your Audience to Heritage Resources (3rd edition).  InterpPress.  ISBN-10: 187993132X
  • Fritsch, J. (ed.) 2014  Museum Gallery Interpretation and Material Culture (Routledge Research in Museum Studies) Routledge.  ISBN-10: 1138802247

Additional resources:

  • Howard, P.  2003  Heritage: Management, Interpretation, Identity.  Continuum International Publishing.  ISBN-10: 082645898X
  • Jackson, A.T.  2016  Speaking for the Enslaved: Heritage Interpretation at Antebellum Plantation Sites (Heritage, Tourism, and Community Book 5).  Routledge.  Also Kindle Edition via Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Jackson, A. & Kidd, J. (Editors)  2012  Performing Heritage: Research, Practice and Innovation in Museum Theatre and Live Interpretation.  Manchester University Press.  ISBN-10: 0719089050
  • Palmer, P.J. & Rathbone, N.  2017  Interpretation In A Digital Age: Understanding the range of technologies available to the heritage interpretation industry.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.  ISBN-10: 1533253072
  • Rose, J.  2016  Interpreting Difficult History at Museums and Historic Sites (Interpreting History).  Rowman & Littlefield.  ISBN-10: 075912437X
  • Scott-Ireton, D.A. (ed). 2015  Between the Devil and the Deep: Meeting Challenges in the Public Interpretation of Maritime Cultural Heritage (When the Land Meets the Sea).  Springer.  ISBN-10: 1493925458
  • Smith, L. 2006  Uses of Heritage. Routledge.  ISBN-10: 9780415318310
  • Staiff, R. 2017  Re-imagining Heritage Interpretation: Enchanting the Past-Future.  Routledge. ISBN-10: 0815399952
  • Tilden, F. 2008  Interpreting Our Heritage.  (Fourth Edition with new material by Tilden and introduction, edited by R. Bruce Craig).  University North Carolina Press.  ISBN-10: 0807858676