Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage

Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage


Fourth Edition, special Fiftieth anniversary; With a new introduction by R. Bruce Craig and a new foreword by Russell E. Dickenson.

Since a good deal my National Park Service career was spent working in and on behalf of national parks, I was pleased to serve as editor for the 50th anniversary edition of this classic—the bible on national park interpretation.

Every year millions of Americans visit national parks and monuments, state and municipal parks, battlefields, historic houses, and museums. By means of guided walks and talks, tours, exhibits, and signs, visitors experience these areas through a very special kind of communication technique known as “interpretation.” For fifty years, Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage has been an indispensable sourcebook for those who are responsible for developing and delivering interpretive programs.

Whether the challenge is to make a prehistoric site come to life; to explain the geological basis behind a particular rock formation; to touch the hearts and minds of visitors to battlefields, historic homes, and sites; or to teach a child about the wonders of the natural world, Tilden’s book, with its explanation of the famed “six principles” of interpretation, provides a guiding hand.

This expanded and revised anniversary edition includes not only Tilden’s classic work but also an entirely new selection of accompanying photographs, five additional essays by Tilden on the art and craft of interpretation, a new foreword by former National Park Service director Russell Dickenson, and my introduction that puts Tilden’s writings into perspective for present and future generations.

For anyone interested in our natural and historic heritage–park volunteers and rangers, museum docents and educators, new and seasoned professional heritage interpreters, and those lovingly characterized by Tilden as “happy amateurs”–Interpreting Our Heritage and Tilden’s later interpretive writings, included in this edition, collectively provide the essential foundation for bringing into focus the truths that lie beyond what the eye sees.


“[A] seminal book which may inspire yet another generation of park rangers.”

“That our marvelous national parks are vital to Americans’ collective heritage is due in no small measure to the interpretive magic of Freeman Tilden. His inspiring message is amplified and lent current salience by Bruce Craig. It is a delight to be reminded that appreciating our legacy comes, first and foremost, from being provoked into loving it.”
David Lowenthal, Emeritus, University College London, author of The Past Is a Foreign Country, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, and George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation

“The interpretive profession continues to embrace Freeman Tilden and his classic text because he exemplified ‘the priceless ingredient’–loving the thing you interpret and the people who come to enjoy it. This fiftieth anniversary edition is a chance to rededicate ourselves to the unfinished interpretive task–to ensure that future generations have abundant opportunities to connect to the meanings and significance of the special places for which we serve as stewards.”
—Theresa G. Coble, Stephen F. Austin State University

“At first glance Tilden’s principles seem simple and direct, but on reflection they are as paradoxical and poetic as the process of interpretation itself. This expanded edition of Tilden’s writings is sure to make interpreters realize how Tilden speaks to us even today and continues to challenge us to do our best.”
—Scott Mair, coordinator of environmental education, Capital Regional District, Victoria, BC, Canada

“Bruce Craig gives us cause to look at Freeman Tilden’s life and writings with fresh eyes, fostering renewed appreciation for his masterful work and his passion for interpretation.”
—Evie Kirkwood, president, National Association for Interpretation

“Since opening its doors in 1964, the National Park Service’s Stephen T. Mather Training Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, has introduced each attending NPS Interpreter to Freeman Tilden’s interpretive philosophy and principles. From 1967-1970, Tilden personally trained the NPS interpretive workforce as a center instructor, honing and expanding his ideas and impact among fellow interpreters. Interpreting Our Heritage is the defining work that firmly established interpretation in the National Parks as a professional, equal, and unique component of NPS park management. This new edition of Tilden’s seminal work will continue to influence and inspire all interpreters, serving as a vital interpretive training reference for another fifty years.”
—Michael D. Watson; chief of interpretation, NPS (1987-1992), and superintendent, Stephen T. Mather Training Center (1992-2006)