Bogotá, Colombia 18-19 June 2019
No skill may be more central to heritage, thematic interpretation than writing strong interpretive themes. This premise underlies PUP director Jon Kohl’s new field guide, The Interpretive Theme Writer’s Field Guide: A Pocket Companion to Sam Ham’s Interpretation: Making a Difference on Purpose: How to Write a Strong Theme from Big Idea to Presentation, published by the National Association for Interpretation in November with contributions from PUP members Dr. Sam Ham (First Word), Dr. Ted Cable (Last Word), and Clark Hancock (Note) (moderator of the Interpretive Theme Writing Think Tank), as well as from US National Park Service Ranger and acclaimed author/poet Shelton Johnson (forward). It is also the premise that motivated the first course based on the field guide.
PUP and its national office representative in Colombia, the Organizational for Educational and Environmental Protection (OpEPA), offered a two-day course to 22 people from Bogotá, Manizales, Amazonía, Boyacá, and other parts of Colombia. It focused on how themes operate in the mind of audiences, why they play such a critical role to interpretation, how writers develop Big Ideas, and then craft them into final themes, as provocative and easy to read as possible. The Field Guide and course also recognize that teams and even communities can develop themes as well.
Each student did practical work on both days as well as a final project delivered later which entails creating a theme and writing a narrative defense of why the theme is strong based criteria in the Field Guide.
Jon Kohl has written widely on theme writing, taught it during interpretation courses, and along with course assistant Carlos Rosero of OpEPA (and country liaison to PUP), innovated the community-based interpretive framework methodology which facilitates a two-day workshop with community members around a heritage area to create interpretive themes, universal processes, heritage elements, and essence for the area in question. This methodology has been adopted by the Colombian National Parks.
Subsequently Kohl will be offering the course again in Spanish in Costa Rica with PUP organizational member Tirimbina Biological Reserve at the end of August followed by a four-session, four-week online version of the course in Spanish in October and later in English. All courses rely on materials and examples from the Field Guide. The National Association for Interpretation will publish a Spanish Kindle adaptation in 2020.
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