1st Edition

Interpreting Heritage A Guide to Planning and Practice

By Steve Slack Copyright 2021
    242 Pages 31 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    242 Pages 31 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Interpreting Heritage is a practical book about the planning and delivery of interpretation that will give anyone working in the heritage sector the confidence and tools they need to undertake interpretation.

    Steve Slack suggests a broad formula for how interpretation can be planned and executed and describes some of the most popular – and potentially challenging, or provocative – forms of interpretation. Slack also provides practical guidance about how to deliver different forms of interpretation, while avoiding potential pitfalls. Exploring some of the ethical questions that arise when presenting information to the public and offering a grounding in some of the theory that underpins interpretive work, the book will be suitable for those who are completely new to interpretation. Those who already have some experience will benefit from tools, advice and ideas to help build on their existing practice.

    Drawing upon the author’s professional experiences of working within, and for, the heritage sector, Interpreting Heritage provides advice and suggestions that will be essential for practitioners working in museums, art galleries, libraries, archives, outdoor sites, science centres, castles, stately homes and other heritage venues around the world. It will also be of interest to students of museum and heritage studies who want to know more about how heritage interpretation works in practice.

    List of Images

    List of Tables



    1 What is interpretation?

    2 What is heritage?

    3 Interpretation planning

    4 Purposes of interpretation

    5 Audiences

    6 Interpretive outcomes

    7 Selecting interpretive devices

    8 The interpretive catalogue

    9 Delivering interpretive projects

    10 Managing and maintaining interpretation

    11 Evaluating interpretation




    Steve Slack is a heritage interpretation consultant. He began his professional career at the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum and has been an independent interpreter and consultant since 2009, working with museums, galleries, libraries, archives and other heritage sites. www.steveslack.co.uk

    "‘Accessibility’ can be a vexed word in heritage interpretation, but this engaging and eminently useful book manifests accessibility at every turn. Steve Slack builds an open-ended, questions-based model which allows both experienced and novice interpreters to conceptualise, plan, and deliver interpretation which is not only effective and appropriate, but also ethical and inclusive. Myriad case studies and concrete examples showcase practical responses to the challenges of interpretation across the sector, be it a major museum or a unique outdoor experiential site. Slack presents thoughtful engagement with the historical origins of interpretation as well as its contemporary realities, and balances useful reflection on theory with practical, but not prescriptive, advice. The book is both a springboard for further research and a resource in and of itself. With the needs of audiences firmly at the centre of his model, Slack demonstrates that interpretation can be a powerful tool for connection and for change."

    ~Louise Ravelli, University of New South Wales, Australia


    "I applaud Steve Slack who says in his introduction "if you do find any rules in the pages of this book, you have my permission to break them". But thankfully Interpreting Heritage isn’t actually a rule book, as Steve offers many case studies, ideas, questions and options for interpretation. But still, I like the sentiment that this book will give you a great grounding in interpretation best-practice in order to give you the confidence to "break" the rules. One of my bugbears in interpretation is that while we happily aim for engaging and interesting text for our audiences, we write jargon-filled gibberish to ourselves. Not so with Steve’s book: it is beautifully written in an informal chatty tone. It is great for students and folks new to interpretation and also those of us who have been at this for decades but need some new ideas, a bit of structure or a refresher.

    My heart sings when I read Steve’s recommendations like: "think through important questions first, before rushing to the interpretive toy box." Or "success lies in the reminder to think about what a visitor might ‘learn’ in the widest possible sense, going well beyond the facts a heritage organisation may want visitors to take in". Too true! While the book is aimed at heritage interpreters it would be handy if colleagues, funders – nay even visitors – would read this book too. I will never forget the parent who wrote into one of my museums complaining that their child hadn’t learnt anything on a museum school trip as they had come back full of questions.

    As well as in-depth descriptions about key interpretation principles Steve’s book is also very practical with handy checklists and notes about documents one should have to hand at discussions. It is a great resource and I will pop it in a few of my colleagues’ Christmas stockings this year."

    ~ Alexandra Gaffikin, Australian National Maritime Museum, Australia


    "Steve Slack’s Interpreting Heritage is one of those rare books you come across that manages to combine sensible and understandable advice with a deep and obviously well researched, scholarly foundation. His love of the subject and humorous style make it an enjoyable read. The numerous case studies and easy-to-remember guiding principles provide inspiration that you can put straight into practice. I am sure this book will become a staple for those already working in the sector looking to refine their own methods and for students wishing broaden their knowledge of the slippery discipline of interpretation."

    ~Rhiannon Goddard, Historic Royal Palaces, UK


    "At a time when representation of our history is under close scrutiny and misrepresentation of facts is commonplace, a new text on interpretive practice is to be welcomed. When that text comes from a highly experienced interpreter, then it is doubly welcome."

    ~Interpretation Journal (Vol 25, no 2, Winter 2020), Association for Heritage Interpretation


    Interpreting Heritage contains more than 200 examples from the author’s extensive experience in the field to illustrate in-practice positives and negatives, easy wins, and the pitfalls of the potentially endless ways in which information on history, art, science, landscape, culture and the environment can be successfully communicated to audiences. […] Interpreting Heritage seems to be a progressive, strong, and forward-thinking foundation to a relationship between the heritage sector and its audiences based on dialogue, accessibility and inclusivity. I am hoping for a follow-up already.'

    ~Sara Riccardi, Northern Soul

    ‘Steve’s book is a guide to interpreting heritage written from his 20 years’ experience working as an interpreter. The stated audiences are people working at the museums, historic buildings, heritage sites, etc. who interpret as part of their role as well as people who know interpretive principles and are interested in practical examples. I also suggest that the book is a must for students on heritage courses and for experienced interpreters - there is a lot to learn and be inspired by withing the pages of Interpreting Heritage whether you’re studying or you’ve been around the block a while.’

    ~Bill Bevan, Heritage Interpreter and AHI Trustee, United Kingdom