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How To > First & Third Person Techniques > Third Person Interpretation Tips

Third Person Tips

by Vincent Petty, August 2001

Third person can be I believe the most effective method of interpretation when dealing with a public and visitor who may or may not be knowledgeable about the period. It allows the interpreter to get into and develop the topic and interpretation as an observer of a past event and share with the visitor his interpretation of past events; rather than from a limited perspective of a first person character who may not have been privy to information needed to develop a visitors understanding of an event. When a visitor talks with several different interpreters they then begin to get many differing perspective on a topic and a well-developed picture of the period.

During the periods of 3rd person please work on these following goals and ideals when dealing with the public -

1) Make you interpretation entertaining, engaging and relevant If your interpretation is not entertaining the information you present will go in one ear and our the other. Engage and challenge the visitor to think. They will be coming with preconceived notions; thoughts and ideas help them explore their beliefs and challenge to think. Our goal is to create an understanding of what life was life on an average Virginia farm in August 1861 and what we present should develop a better understanding of that goal as well as an understanding of the effects of the war on the South.

2) As part of engaging the visitor use inquiry and hands on methods of interpretation. This is a simple concept but can be a challenge. Remember that if you provide information to a person simply by telling or lecturing they will probably remember only about 10% of what they are told. But if they come to the answer to their question on their own they will remember much more and understand better. Inquiry method interpretation quite simply is asking questions of the visitor to guide them to the answer of their own question-this is best used with kids and students. As well part of inquiry method is comparing and contrasting; for example if talking about cooking, how is the 19th century kitchen different form their own kitchen at home? How is it the same? How is the food different or how is it the same? The inquiry method is strengthened if you can put something in their hand. If they can touch and feel the visitor will learn more and retain more. It will be one thing to simply talk about tobacco, but if I put the visitor in the field and show them how to tend to tobacco, what seed looks like, let them experience a little of the labor tobacco requires (topping and suckering) then they will gain a greater appreciation of what it took for a farmer to produce tobacco.

Think about the activities each of you might be individually planning and ask yourself what hands one activity you can create. If you are sewing a flag how about bringing scraps of cloth and extra needles and showing a child a few simple stitches. If you are knitting, bring an extra pair of needles and teach someone how to cast on and knit a row. When done take it apart and let someone else try. If interpreting soldiering let the visitor feel the weight of the musket or try on uniform parts or teach a young "soldier" what a soldier carried in his baggage and let the young visitor try and pack a soldiers knapsack. Keep the hands on activities simple, but entertaining and engaging. If cooking let a visitor help out away from the fire; if making fried okra, let them batter it for you or if mixing corn bread, etc., let the visitor have a try.

3) If you are interpreting to a family direct the interpretation to the children. They are the ones we are hoping to teach and if the child learns something the parent will be happy and it will have been a worthwhile outing for that family. Be mindful of the audience you are dealing with and make sure your interpretation is appropriate for the group you are talking to. Especially when dealing with children they are going to process information differently based on their level of maturity. As the child or student is older or more mature you can explore more complex themes and ideas.

4) If you are working on a project be prepared to stop often to talk with visitors and give them you attention, they are the reason that we are there.

© Article Copyright, Vincent Petty, 1999-2005. May not be reproduced without the permission of the author.