o what do I mean by “guerilla interpretation?” After a decade spent working in a non-profit organisation, when it comes to interpreting the ‘thing’—whatever it is that you happen to be interpreting—there’s an idea that it’s an “everyone” thing. That is everyone involved contributes their expertise.
In reality, though, it tends to be limited to certain groups (in historical properties, this tends to mean the curators). While I disagree with this arrangement, as they say, “it is what it is.” What it does do, however, is drive the creative to interesting ways of hacking the interpretation, or what I like to call “guerilla interpretation.”
Guerilla Interpretation at James Madison's Montpelier
The interpretation at James Madison’s Montpelier was an interesting challenge as an archaeologist. On the one hand, you’re simultaneously one of the primary researchers generating data, while on the other hand, you’re on the frontline of interpretation with showing visitors what you are finding and explaining just what it might mean. And, yet, despite this, the actual production of interpretation tends to go along more traditional lines (even if it is well done) with archaeologists providing information for others to interpret to the public.
(On the other hand, at Germanna Archaeology, the archaeologists are amongst the primary interpreters because of that generation of data.)
Anyway, there is an advantage: it can drive interpreters into creative ways of providing visitors new ways of looking at the environment and the research that has contributed to the interpretations that they’re seeing around them. For the cellar interpretations on slavery—what is now the “Mere Distinction of Color” exhibit—a blue-sky meeting explored the use of RFID tags to restrict access to certain parts of the exhibit (or the house), or would open up new bits of interpretation depending on whether the visitor was viewing as a white person (man, woman, child) or black person (man, woman, child).
Augmented reality offered another interesting potential for co-opting extant interpretations in the landscape. For example, signs in Montpelier’s “South Yard” explored the demography of the plantation to illustrate that for every white face that one might see, there were 6–8 faces of colour. At the same time, Montpelier also had a department focused on constitutional self-government (the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution) that produced a lot of video content as part of their initial exploration for asynchronous online courses.
How does this work together? Initially, the idea was put together using the Aurasma app, which requires a distinct visual “hook” to attach the augmented reality experience (video, website, 3d model—whatever). The Montpelier interpretative panels were unique enough that they would serve as the appropriate hook and allow content to be attached to it. So, in this case, it might link to the Roles of Slavery video, or perhaps even one of the modules for the Slavery and the Constitution online course, e.g. The Three-Fifths Compromise.
The idea here, of course, is that you’re giving the interested visitor access to layered interpretations that tell different narratives—from the stories provided by the archaeological narrative to meta-narratives derived from national stories about slavery.
Similar approaches could be used to put 3d reconstructions based on the archaeological research back into the landscape, whether those are buildings, scanned artefacts, or whatever might bring across the appropriate message.
Layered Interpretations and Crime Investigations
There are direct applications with the use of AR and its integration to online and blended courses with “guerilla interpretations” as, ultimately, they’re all about presenting data/information based on chrono-spatial position. In the online context, I mentioned some of these ideas in an earlier reflection: “New Jobs & Thoughts” (and in particular the section on µ-learning).
From Online to In-Class… and Vice-Versa
In the previous post, I was talking about how to explore the crime scene asynchronously and remotely.