Journal of Interpretation Research
Volume 22, Number 1

A Note from the Editor

Carolyn Ward

Do Facts Matter?
I have found myself wondering about this more and more lately. In these last months since the previous Journal’s publishing, we have seen a changed landscape in so many ways. Terms like alternative facts and fake news have become part of our vernacular. Regardless of your political persuasion, trust in information and agreement about a set of facts is critical to the advancement of ideas and dialogue. It is and should be the cornerstone of all our interpretive efforts.

Agreement about a set of facts is not to say that we all have to agree or should agree on their implications. Perspective on facts and opinions about facts is the individual’s sovereign right. Sam Ham has talked for years about “meaning-making” and the interpreter’s role in helping facilitate that meaning. David Larsen talked about the visitor’s right to form his or her own opinion from our interpretive programs. As David said in 1998, “All visitors have a right to their own values and perspectives.” Allowing visitors to hold their own belief structures and create their own meanings, does not espouse that facts do not matter—only that one’s perspective on the facts is the inherent right of the individual and is key for their own meaning-making.

Perhaps this is not a new conversation. James Loewen’s Lies Across America (1999) was one of the most revealing books about what our historical sites were getting wrong. From the removal of historical exhibits and monuments to the renaming national monuments, perspectives on facts change. The renaming of Custer Battlefield National Monument in Montana in 1991 to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is one example of how perspectives on facts and history can change. Many of the underlying tenants of Loewen’s position are in the news today, as we watch the removal of several confederate monuments across the south. These developments of the recent months remind us that over time, the most accepted and held perspectives on facts can change.

I have had many conversations over the last several months about how interpreters should deal with topics such as climate change, science in general, and issues of controversy amidst this political climate. They fear job security and retribution and groups like “Alt National Parks” have emerged. And I must admit, I have had a hard time answering those questions.

In our field, facts are supposed to be the starting point, the basis of the program, and the essential element from which to build the narrative, the story, or the perspective. Perhaps there is no greater need for talented, skilled interpreters who seek and rely on facts than right now.

Facts do matter.

I look forward to the future developments of our field through your quality submissions to JIR.