Preservation and Interpretation

While researching the background of a few marker entries last night, I came across some presentations made by Professor William H. Mulligan, Jr of Murray State University.   The search thread that brought me to Professor Mulligan’s work started with a marker on the Kentucky Ohio River Civil War Heritage Trail.  Mulligan produced much of the interpretive material for the trail, and from what I gather, was the driving force behind it.   Specific to my quest was a survey titled The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase Region of Kentucky.

Looking around for more links that may be of use, I read through several presentations, and found a sidebar topic.  The title that stood out “Why Not Build a Burger King Here?” from 1998.  From the lead paragraph:

I don’t intend to argue today that interpretation is more important than preservation, but rather to discuss the importance of interpretation in building support for battlefield and other Civil War site preservation. We all know how important it is not to have to include the immortal phrase — “the Confederates formed their lines over by Wendy’s and attacked the Federals who were behind the Burger King” — in any tour of a Civil War site.

Professor Mulligan proceeds from that premise to first illustrate the importance of interpretation from the visitor’s perspective.  Second, he defines it beyond the five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why), to include the three Cs (Causes, Consequences, Context).  Lastly, the professor offers, although dated due to the time of presentation, a summary of the techniques which serve as good medium for interpretative programs.

What I step away from the reading with is a bit of affirmation.  Part of my motivation to document and present these historical markers is to aid with the preservation.  There are two domains to this preservation issue.  One is the “physical” side where we must talk about acreage and view sheds.  The other is more “cerebral” in nature.  The component of Professor Mulligan’s definition of interpretation that I’d pull out to highlight is “Context”, which should link the historical event to the visitor, reader, or… if we go there … the developer looking for a new place for that Taco Bell.

I say if we can, preserve it and interpret it.  And if preservation is not practical, at least interpret.

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