Course description

Heritage interpretation is about raising public awareness and understanding of a cultural heritage place, and effectively communicating its potential range of values and significances to different audiences. In this course you will explore the concept of memory, and investigate what should be remembered—and why—and from whose points of views should such interpretations be made. Particularly problematic is the concept of dark heritage—remembering and interpreting sites of injustice, conflict and atrocity—which are threaded throughout the course. 

A wide variety of interpretive techniques are explored, including:

  • letting a place speak for itself (genus loci)
  • print, verbal, audio and visual communications
  • interpretive centres
  • restorations, recreations and reconstructions of the past.

Many case studies will be presented and discussed. The course will be delivered through lectures, discussions, working in small groups and participant presentations.

Topics will include:

  • an introduction to heritage interpretation and presentation 
  • the discourses of interpretation: from whose points of view do we interpret the past?
  • spirit of place (genus loci): letting a historic place speak for itself
  • the written word: signs, signs, everywhere a sign 
  • the spoken word: verbal narratives
  • thinking visually: communicating without words
  • using restorations and reconstructions to create a sense of the past 
  • recreating the historic environment: historic house museums and historic villages
  • interpretation centres: formally introducing a historic place
  • two different walls, two different ways of interpreting the past: the great wall of China and the Berlin Wall 
  • interpreting sites of atrocity: the Nanking Massacre (China), the Killing Fields (Cambodia), and Auschwitz (Poland)


Note: though not required, prior experience in a cultural organization would be an asset for success in this course.

Please contact the Program Coordinator, Tusa Shea, directly at if you have any questions or concerns.


Alastair Kerr is an expert in heritage planning and historic resource evaluation, and is a leading theorist in heritage conservation in Canada. He holds a BA and an MA in art and architectural history from the University of Victoria.

For the past 33 years Alastair has worked for the British Columbia Heritage Branch where he has had extensive experience in policy development, strategic planning, historic resource evaluation, historic site and heritage planning, heritage law, public consultation and participation programs, downtown revitalization, dispute resolution, and training. Currently Alastair is the Manager of Heritage Programs in the Heritage Branch, Ministry of Tourism, Sport, and the Arts.

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