Interpreting Heritage

Module code: MU7530

Module co-ordinator: Dr Sheila Watson

This module provides a creative opportunity to put your ideas, experiences and theoretical tools into practice. Focused around the production of a final project - a piece of interpretation - you are encouraged to use this opportunity to further develop your own areas of interest and expertise, and to think broadly, creatively and in interdisciplinary ways. The module develops your skills in interpretation in ways that are relevant to the heritage sector, including interpretive planning and strategy skills and project management skills.

Topics covered

Unit 1 – Heritage interpretation, education and learning

We begin by taking a look at ways of framing the interpretation of heritage in practice, specifically, at processes of learning and the concept of ‘education’ in heritage contexts. Part of this unit is concerned with evolving our understanding of ‘interpretation’ and learning about meaning-making. We then take the discussion of educational provision further by looking at plans, policies and ways of measuring learning in heritage contexts.

Unit 2 – Participatory heritage and co-creation

We move on to another framework through which we can approach the interpretation of heritage in practice - the way individuals, communities and groups shape heritage. We focus particularly here on the issues around institutions and organisations that seek to work with communities, and the opportunities and issues of co-creative and participatory methods which are concerned with handing over the power to interpret and create content to ‘non-experts’.

Unit 3 – Media: Exhibitions

Next, we take a closer look at the media of exhibitions. This unit is intended to look closely at the nature of exhibitions, what they are, how they are made and the great creative potential they hold. We look in particular at storytelling and narrative as a key interpretive device.

Unit 4 – Media: text and design

This unit looks more deeply at two of the key communicative media we have available to us as interpreters: text, and design. The unit considers the production of easy-to-read writing as it applies broadly to all sorts of textual materials. The unit then explores what we might call ‘design as interpretation’, before looking at how interpretive settings are working creatively with space, light, word, image, and sound to create engaging experiences. These design components can often have a profound effect upon the visitor experience and the meanings that can be made.

Unit 5 – Media: people

This unit looks at one of the most important communication media – people – whether they be educators, interpreters, docents, guides, front-of-house staff, actors, storytellers, artists, visitors; in fact anyone who aims to interpret something for an audience. The potential of theatre and creative writing workshops are just two areas considered in this unit that suggest the way face-to-face interpretation can be effectively utilised.

Unit 6 – Strategies: creative learning workshops

This unit offers some potentially inspiring examples of how we might offer opportunities for learning about heritage through workshops, which encourage creativity. We look here at particular audience groups and how sensory, craft and reminiscence workshops might be designed.

Unit 7 - Strategies: artist interventions

This unit focuses on artist interventions in exhibition spaces. What is so fascinating about interventions is the freedom that an artist can bring to the creation of a visitor experience and the acceptance of the artist’s voice as an almost ‘neutral’ voice in relation to difficult subjects. This could certainly be said of the now archetypal example of Fred Wilson’s work at the Maryland Historical Society in which Wilson offers a subtle commentary on the politics of collecting and displaying ‘Others’. Unit 6 looks at his more recent work in Sweden, along with work by Peter Greenaway and others. Such installations can provide inspiration and new approaches to be explored and reused by interpretation professionals.

Unit 8 – A framework for project management

Unit 8 provides a practical and generic guide to effective project management, which is broad in scope. It is complemented by the following unit which takes a more specific look at a particular kind of project – the exhibition.  

Unit 9 – Management tools for interpretive projects

Unit 9 takes a closer look at specific aspects of project management that are utilised in the development and delivery of exhibitions.

Unit 10 – Heritage interpretation in practice

Unit 10 is a self-reflective unit that encourages you to think about your learning over the duration of the course, as well as revisiting key areas to consolidate that learning. Unit 10 also helps you prepare for the module assignment, which is in the form of a creative project.


  • 225 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay, 4,000-5,000 words (100%)