Too often, written interpretive manuals are merely compilations of facts—if these manuals exist at all.  Drawing from best practice in the field of interpretation—along with techniques borrowed from exhibition development, material culture studies, and even Walt Disney Imagineering—this Technical Leaflet describes strategies for focusing and organizing a written manual that will help to ensure meaningful and memorable presentations for diverse audiences.

The proposed structure for interpretive manuals described in this Technical Leaflet involves: the Museum’s mission statement; a hierarchy of themes, with one Big Idea that leads to three interpretive themes, then to all other material that is linked back to these; a narrative backstory; connections to the physical site and material culture; audience engagement; and delivering the presentation.

Key concepts:

  • A focused and organized written manual can help ensure meaningful and memorable presentations.
  • Interpretive programs start with the Museum’s mission, which should be included up front in the manual.
  • Writing the concepts in the form of a story in the manual brings people and emotion to the forefront.
  • Overtly linking broad concepts to the physical space and material culture in the manual brings the ideas down to earth and makes them concrete and memorable.
  • A written manual can promote understanding of audience needs and characteristics.

Interpretive planning and implementation in Greenfield Village have always occurred within a collaborative environment.  The author wishes to thank the following people whose input and inspiration helped in the creation of this article:  Jeanine Head Miller, Larry Fisher, Peter Cousins, Cathy Cwiek, Gretchen Overhiser, Nancy Bryk, Brian Egan, Ryan Spencer, MaryLynn Heininger, Blake Hayes, John Neilson, and Harold Skramstad.

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