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Heritage Interpreter


Description

Museums are full of artifacts. There are items which explain history, evolution, geology, and present day cultures and traditions from around the world. But these artifacts mean nothing to us unless they are explained in ways that we understand. Each artifact or exhibit has descriptions and explanations written on cards nearby, but often these simple explanations are not enough. The little cards can't give full explanations of the political atmosphere in England at the time the artifact was made or the history of the basket work from the Zulu nation. The cards and charts can't answer questions, or modify their language for children, or visitors just learning English.

Luckily, museums usually have interpreters on staff. These interpreters accompany visitors throughout museums or exhibits, explaining the historical, scientific, or cultural significance of each piece. The interpreters are there to make each artifact and display relevant to the visitors' own lives.

Heritage interpreters work in other environments, as well. They work in parks, cultral centers, archives, and with historical societies. They explain the heritage the past has left to us in many forms, either in artifacts, diaries, geology, or traditions. Heritage interpreters work to bring the cultural and historical significance of the past to life.

Interpreters might give general tours, or they might run scheduled visits or programs. They may accompany visitors into research labs, archives, and other spaces the public can't go on their own. They may run educational programs with school groups, playing games, cooking, and running art workshops, bringing the artifacts and their stories to the children in a more direct way. Programs may have to be set up and cleaned up after each activity or tour.

Some museums and cultural centers, especially those with old homes or preserved environments, are not accessible without an interpreter. The interpreters in these museums are often dressed in historical costume, and perform traditional tasks, such as churning butter and carpentry. These interpreters do not always accompany tours, but wait to greet visitors from various locations throughout the site.

Heritage interpreters are crucial. Without them, many people would be reluctant to visit museums, cultural centers, and historical sites, because the artifacts, buildings, and old documents may seem lifeless, or hard to understand. But with the interpreters' help, artifacts and history come alive with stories, facts, and explanations about the simple items on display.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Heritage interpreters need to be outgoing, enthusiastic people with terrific memories. They should be polite, generous people who are open to other cultures and beliefs. They need to be fantastic communicators, able to explain artifacts and historical concepts to anyone, from children to developmentally delayed adults. They should be quick thinkers, who can solve problems creatively. They need to feel comfortable working alone. A knowledge of languages besides English is definitely an asset.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Greet visitors to museum, cultural center, or exhibit space
  • Introduce them to artifacts and buildings, including telling relevant historical information, cultural explanations, and what the item tells us about our own lives today
  • Modify language and content of tour for each visitor
  • Sometimes dress in historical costume
  • Sometimes perform historical tasks
  • Run educational programs with school groups
  • A typical day will involve touring visitors through the exhibits, explaining the artifacts, performing heritage tasks, and giving talks. There will be some time spent reviewing programs, meeting with administrative staff and curators regarding exhibit materials, program ideas and modification techniques. Some programs may require set up as well as clean up. Interpreters may have to do all their work in costumes, and sometimes take on a character, meaning they guide the visitor while pretending they are from the era or cultural group upon which the exhibit is based. There will be the chance to meet many types of people, and the job may involve working outside, depending on the type of museum or historical site.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Heritage interpreters work in all sorts of heritage sites. In small community museums, the interpreters are often volunteers, but larger museums and historical sites always have interpreters on staff. Heritage sites are primarily government institutions, however, you may find yourself at a non-profit museum or cultural center.
  • Heritage interpreters work in the galleries or historic buildings. They may also work in offices, storage spaces, and meeting rooms. They are usually government employees, unless they work for a private museum or historical site.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Heritage interpreters can advance to administrative, supervisory, or managerial positions. They can become catalogers, conservators, and curators with museums. With additional training and education they can leave museums altogether, and become teachers, professors, or historians. Heritage interpreters can get into acting, event planning, journalism, and fiction writing, or any career that requires outgoing, imaginative personalities.
 

  Educational Paths  
There are no specific requirements for heritage interpreters. Generally, though, hiring committees look for applicants who have some postsecondary education in history, art history, sociology, anthropology, or museum studies. The ability to speak another language is beneficial to aspiring heritage interpreters.

Volunteering in a museum or with a cultural center as an assistant to the interpreters or administrative staff is a great way to gain experience, as well as meet the people who do the hiring!
 

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