Simon Campbell-Skelling's story

Simon Campbell-Skelling's story

Simon, an Education Outreach Officer, spent his Fellowship in Boston finding out about approaches to historical interpretation.

The Fellowship

Interpretation, in the context of museums, historic sites and nature reserves means “interpreting” the large, often complex, amounts of information about the subject in such a way that it is readily accessible to everyone. For example, the Battle of Hastings could be interpreted (or “explained” to put it another way) through a text panel, a model, a live re-enactment, an animation or whatever is thought to be most effective at reaching out to a particular audience. 

Simon’s Fellowship was inspired by the work of the American writer, journalist and philosopher Freeman Tilden who first defined the art of interpretation in a book he wrote for the US National Park Service (NPS) called Interpreting Our Heritage (1957). Today this book is still regarded as the definitive work, and for everyone studying to work in museums knowledge of its content is mandatory. 

For his Fellowship Simon spent six weeks visiting sites managed by the NPS in New England. Simon visited many sites, such as Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, where secession from Britain was hotly debated in the 1770s, and Minute Man National Park, a country park in Massachusetts where the first battles of the War of Independence took place. As well as observing Tilden’s principles in action Simon ended up conducting a tour of revolutionary Boston for some very surprised American tourists! 

The Results

Simon’s Fellowship has allowed him to develop ever more effective means of interpreting the sites he is responsible for in West Yorkshire. A valuable lesson of his Fellowship was seeing the tremendous emphasis the NPS places on personal interaction between staff and visitors as their primary means of interpreting historic sites. Always a supporter of this approach Simon has become an even stronger advocate of this and has sought to increase its use in the organisation he currently works for. 

The experience of studying the way the NPS interpreted conflict, revolution and the abolitionist movement, combined with Simon's existing experience in this area of interpretation, has led to some new and interesting projects. He has established and co-coordinated a steering group from members of Kirklees' Black community to direct the annual Black History Month commemorations; he works with the Bosnian community in Kirklees and the charity Remembering Srebrenica to run the annual commemorations of the 1995 genocide; and most recently, he has developed a project to encourage greater youth participation in local democracy.