Love, your sister Alice

“Love, your sister Alice”

Inspirations for programs come from numerous sources; a friend’s suggestion, heavy research, a site’s themes and missions, the imagination, periods of desperation, and far too many time, the need to fill an organization’s need to fill an interpretive calendar.

However, there are many occasions when something just falls into one’s lap at the most unexpected moment.

I have had the unique experience of being hospitalized twice since September for heart issues. My body decided on September 10th to gift me with a severe heart attach requiring the installation of two stints in my arteries. Through the entire episode I was witness, and participant, to umpteen new experiences that offered me themes for programs, talks, and writings. Some have already been put to paper and social media. The second ‘cardiac event’ this past week again placed me as the receiver of new materials for my personal journals and possible future programs, mostly about myself, my new life, and the great person’ who worked so diligently on a stranger to save my life.

But, and added gift was given me by the Head Nurse on my floor.

It seems that when I am asked my profession it draws a great deal of interest from the person interviewing me and those who happen to hear my response. I suppose few hospitals have a specialist in costumed historic interpretation answer the inquiry, “ What do you do for a living?”. The response is often the same, “ What is that?”, “Do you mean like Williamsburg?”, “Oh I love those programs!”, “ I love history, can I tell you about…”, and further interesting remarks that divert the stress of the moment and allow the gathered a moment to better know each other.

This past week, after I had been ensconced in my hospital room, attached to the requisite battery of monitoring equipment, safely tucked in, the Head Nurse came in and sat by my bed and asked if we could talk about something she found. I was very pleased to have the diversion.

She and her husband had purchased a home in Fort Collins, Colorado that was built in 1901 and that they were rehabbing and restoring. In the process they had found an old letter in the wall behind the mantle as they had revamped the fireplace. She said it was not very interesting but would I look at it and give some suggestions on how they might display it?

I told her I was very interested.

The next morning she brought in a small envelope, opened and covered in a spot or two of mold and discoloration. Inside were three lined sheets of text from a lady to her sister.

Dated January 10th, 1914 the contents were a wealth of information and excitement to an old bed ridden historian.

The author described how the snows in Fort Collins had stopped and topped over three feet, but the streets were finally cleared and people were able to go about. She expressed how she was concerned that she might have to move to Oklahoma to be with her husband if he found regular work as there was nothing in Colorado for him. She also told how she was losing boarders as “they have gone off with the militia to deal with the miners’ unions in the South of the state.” She was having to decide whether she would hold their rooms or let them out to others. She then continued with the hope that here sister’s family would have a good new year with the closing, “Love, your sister, Alice.”

A number of aspects of the missive excited me; the weather report, the financial situation of her family, the action of taking in borders, the coincidence that I have a sister named Alice, and the mention of the “militia” going to deal with the miners’ unions.

The last is especially important to Colorado and American labor history.

Beginning in September of 1913 and continuing beyond December 1914 the strike, organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) targeted the coal mining companies of Colorado including the Rockerfeller owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company.

The strike had nearly crippled parts of the U.S. Economy, especially in the West. This strike, the one which the lady’s borders had gone as “militia” (Colorado National Guard) to deal with would culminate in the Ludlow Massacre in April of 1914. There the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s camp guards attacked the striking miners and their families in a tent city the miners had established. The reported casualties exceeded over two dozen people, including women and children, two women and eleven children found asphyxiated and burned to death in a ‘cellar’ under one tent. The repercussions of this attack was a retaliatory action by armed miners who for the ten days following the massacre attacked numerous mines and skirmishing with the Colorado National Guard that resulted in a reported 199 lives.

It was described as the “deadliest strike in the history of the United States.” (Thomas G. Andrews).

The resultant congressional investigation was influential in establishing the child labor laws and the eight hour work day.

Ironically, the Ludlow site, today a ghost town and granite monument, is owned by the UMWA.

And so, to me, the little letter with its three pristine pages of clean crisp script, is an insight to one of the famous labor conflicts in U.S. History.

It certainly offers a number of interpretive moments for the future.

When she returned, I explained to the owner how to best preserve the letter and the envelope. I also speculated it had never been mailed as it had no stamp or post mark, and more than likely fallen through a crack on top of the mantle and is was awaiting a stamp and the postman.

We spoke as to whether either of us thought it might have been rewritten once the loss was discovered, or whether a later letter covered more or different news. Dis the wife join her husband in Oklahoma, did she let the rooms to others, or did she find that some of her “militia” borders not return?

Inspiration, it comes from so many sources, some as simple as a letter signed,

“Love, your sister Alice”.

John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Program

It’s All a Matter of Understanding the Terms

This year marks my twentieth year in NAI. It is not really a remarkable achievement but came about in a round-about-manner. I had been associated with the organization since 1991, having been invited to a couple of regional activities and the Vail national workshop. In working at Colorado State University, then the site of the national NAI office, I became acquainted with the then president of the organization, Cem Basman, who regularly asked me to join NAI. I had met with the then director and found that neither was the organization something that was meeting my needs and, to be blunt, the director was less than welcoming to my field of interpretation, (the director, not Cem). I mentioned these aspects to Cem, and also stated my frustrations on how the organization could call itself “the National Association of Interpretation ( the old name, since changed to the National Association for Interpretation). Cem then challenged to me join and , to quote, “change things.”

Loving a challenge, I joined. My reception by most of the folks I met in NAI was rather tepid, not that I expected a band and a parade, with very few others in the membership specializing in my field; costumed and historic interpretation. I also found some who were, well, were less than welcoming. A few expressed their opinions very openly to me when I attended the Cleveland workshop by stating that they could not understand why I would join NAI since “my people” (yep, that’s a quote) had their own organizations. I stated my opinion again about the organization’s name representation and usually met with a number of discussions about “living history” just being a hobby and not a real field of interpretation and that “we” could not understand the basics of interpretation. I would usually point out that I had studied under Freeman Tilden in the late 60′s, the 1960′s that is and wasn’t his ‘bible’ called Interpreting Our Heritage? That statement regularly created a puzzlement that I would know anything about Tilden, or Sharpe, or any of the standards that were the foundations of interpretation at the time. In truth, many of us who were in the field of historic interpretation were, and are, very familiar with the foundations of interpretive principles and practices.

Needless to state, the first few years of being a member of NAI were frustrating. I did meet others who shared my field of study and who were members of NAI. Our combined frustrations came to a head in 1996 in Billings, Montana when about twenty of us walked out of one of the keynotes, which, to be blunt, in our collective opinion, was not only poor historical interpretation, but was just plain poor interpretation. The group was approached by Deb Tewell, then an officer of NAI and now a member of the staff, who asked us to voice our concerns and encouraged us to approach the issue by starting a section to address our field. We accomplished the required number of petition signatures in a day, submitted our request for a new section to the board , and were approved before the workshop was completed. Thus, in a brief summation, the Cultural Interpretation and Living History section of NAI (CILH) was formed. Some may not appreciate, or approve of the thoughts and frustrations that initiated this action, but, as they saying goes, “the rest is history”.

Since that time I have had numerous conversations within the membership, and with many in the historic interpretive field and museums outside NAI, as to why I am a member of NAI and why I think others should join.

The reason is simple, we are all interpreters, with the same foundations, desires, and hopes and dreams of growth and improvement in our respective fields. We are a family with varied interests, experiences and expertise, but, we are of one family.

About fifteen years ago the term “Heritage Interpretation” began to circulate within the organization. For many of us, in all fields, we were a bit taken aback that the term needed explanation to some of the leadership and the members of NAI, as many of us who had worked in Europe and Canada had heard the term for years and understood its application. I wrote about the term then in one of the NAI publications and within the past eight years the term was being used regularly and was incorporated in our strategic plan and in a rewrite of our mission.

And yet, the term is still misunderstood, not only within our organization but also by so many others. Too often the word “heritage” is the “underminer”, if you will, of understanding the application to interpretation. The word’s old traditional utilization referring to historic and cultural materials only creates a belief that only historic and cultural themes and sites are “Heritage Interpretation”.

However, if one looks for the explanation of the term on the web and through heritage interpretive site materials you will see numerous definitions offered that give a better understanding to the universal term. One, developed by Interpretation Canada in the 1970′s, regularly comes to the forefront and offers a concise and definition,

“Heritage interpretation is a communication process, designed to reveal meanings and relationships of our cultural and natural heritage, through involvement with objects, artifacts, landscapes and sites.”

Further materials in the web sites, literature, and writings of Heritage sites fill in the definition with examples, themes of such locales, and missions of various organizations that are devoted to heritage interpretation, all maintaining the primary theme of the definition.

The interesting aspect of the term is that it does not apply only to historic or cultural interpretation, but reiterates the principles and tenets of Freeman Tilden about the field of interpretation,

“An educational activity which aims to reveal meaning and relationships through the use of original objects, by first-hand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information”.

I am a Heritage Interpreter, not because I am an historian and a specialist in costumed historic interpretation, but because I belong to a great and large family of interpreters from many diverse fields of interpretation that collectively contribute to the whole of our world and its experiences. We are a integrative group who regularly offer to others a better understanding of our heritage, natural, biological, historical, cultural, and human experiences, and who continually gain better knowledge in the process.

It is all a matter of understanding the terms.

John C.F. Luzader
Heritage Interpreter
Vice President of Programs

Every Home is a Museum

Every Home is a Museum

In the past five years my wife and I have been evacuated from our home three times from either wildfires or flood. Yes, I know, maybe we should examine relocating to a different locale, but,in watching what is happening around the world I am not certain we would find a place that would not provide the same situations (floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other conflicts seem to be effecting nearly any locale at some time or another.)

With each of these evacuations we have been faced with what items of material history are most important to us to attempt to save. The inventory of pets, important documents (insurance forms, tax records, wills, &c), medications, and family photographs are standards to be removed from the house. In the early evacuations we tried to save ‘everything’, sometimes to an extreme. During the packing as a major fire moved in on our home I was endeavoring to pack my entire library of over 4700 books, periodicals, computer materials into a horse trailer that friends had brought to the estate. As the flames and smoke came closer and closer I was tossing books through a window into the trailer as my wife and friends continually told me, “it’s time to leave!” Finally, in desperation, one of my champions came into the house, lifted me up and carried me to my car, needless to state, this is a very large and powerful friend. This as the fire trucks were coming onto the homestead to set up a last stand defense against the flames.

In this case, the house was spared , but I spent months cleaning and restoring of smoke and ash from their pages and covers.

In our evacuation last September from flooding, I left the books behind. My wife and I chose other ‘valuables’ that seemed to have more worth to us. Again, the house was spared. The books staid behind and are requiring attention for the next few months to remove some mold from their pages and covers.

It amazed me what seemed important years ago had changed in priority.

In cleaning up after the flood and observing the debris and materials that were scattered about I recognized that so many things were now on site that were once valuable to their original owners and now had a new status; archaeological remains, and trash. Fishing line, leach field piping, roof remains, old signs, shingles, bits and pieces of buildings, old carpets and matting, a child’s ripped and torn swimming pool, broken fishing poles all have become trash to be removed. But what about the six pastel 36B cup bras that I found neatly stacked in the sand? Were they in a suitcase or drawer that washed upon my land? Were they part of an important inventory of a young lady upstream? The broken decal covered snowboard, now broken and silent that ended up against our pump-house valve, was it a special Christmas gift? The goose decoy; how many hunting trips did it travel? The pair of leather fringed “Indian” pants from a doll and the antique knife that more than likely came from the Indian Village shop up river (now gone), what story hides in their remains?

Recently, my business partner and dear friend had to go to her parents’ home in Nebraska to settle her parents’ estate and clean out their house, a house that once was the core of the family. Its contents were sorted by her, hers siblings, spouses and other family members. Each item had to be assessed as to its value, not as a financial gain, but as a memory asset. What photos would go where, what tools, books, memories were to be saved and which would find homes by donation, and which would be determined trash for some land fill and a future archaeological dig. It was, and is, a daunting task as it is not yet finished.

Some of the treasures she told me about are amazing! These are stories she needs to tell to others, but will also remain as a ‘museum’ for future generations of the family.

As an historian and anthropologist I have regularly dug sites that offered stories from material remains. Each was a personal item to someone at some time. Each offers stories to be told, not tall tales, but stories of people who lived breathed, worked, loved, hated, lost, and gained in their individual ways and worlds to exist as part of our heritage.

Each home is a museum whether a manse or hovel, apartment or loft, simple bungalow or large family home, tent or cabin with its scars, paint layers, hidden graffiti, growth marks on the door sills, worn floor boards, and dings in the walls telling their own tales.

And the loss of any of these reliquaries, whether by storm, fire, flood, neglect, conflict, or other disruption is a loss to the world.

When we recover these ‘museums’ and illustrate their pasts we often for get the human element and concentrate on the material things during tours. It is a pity that walls can not speak out loud as their perspectives might be much different than ours as to what was important in their life times; laughter and sorrow, the sound of voices, the smells from kitchens, the care of a fresh coat of paint or wall paper, the need for a leak repair, the odor from Christmas trees, the smell of smoke from lamps and fire boxes, the shutter of cold winter days, the scurry of toes of a rodent, the solemn traditions of Sabbath, singing, quiet footsteps on stairs slipping down to the kitchen for a midnight snack, the alarm of a early morning phone call…

If walls could talk.

Enjoy your personal museum and share their stories.

John C.F. Luzader

Vice President of Programs

Provocative Interpretive Signs?

July 2, 2014

Provocative Interpretive Signs?

A popular comedian states, “Here’s your sign.” when indicating that the obvious is staring one in the face. Often we are uncomfortable in stating we see the sign and other times we are so engrossed in so many other thoughts and distractions we are oblivious to the apparent sign staring us in the face.

In this troubled time of budgetary constraints and depletions I find myself working at an antique store owned by good friends. This is patently a distressful situation for an historian and professional interpreter to find himself; handling, talking about , educating, interpreting, and selling of the materials of bygones years. (I shall not state of bygone cultures as so many items within the store are items I am familiar through personal use or association).

My interaction with the potential buyers begins at the door, a greeting is given, eye contact is made, inquiries are made if there are special needs or desires, (as with so many sites I have worked, better than 50% immediately ask for the restrooms), and the offering of further assistance is insured. The door locale is also the last aspect of the visitors experience, whether through sales, information of other like sites and places to eat, camp, sleep, or to visit.

And though this sounds like any other service industry, that locale by the door, allows me my first opportunity to observe and better interact with each person who enters Rocky Mountain Antiques.

It is here I become aware of many visitors’ backgrounds, interests, and personal lives.

Various T shirts with numerous logos provoke conversations; “You ride motorcycles?” , “ When did you visit Mount Rushmore?”, “Is this you first time to Estes Park?”, &c. All common openings we have been taught to utilize in better knowing who we are meeting and to make the visitor feel at ease.

Occasionally we are posed with ‘signs’ that many are reluctant to use; not me.

Recently a gentleman enter with his wife. Each sported a T shirt with the following statement plastered on the back of the shirts, “Get your Butt Rubbed in Milliken”. Now that’s provocative. It grabbed my attention and drew us into a quick conversation. The simple explanation, they own and operate Rubbin Buttz BBQ in Millikin, Colorado. I expressed I thought it was a grand slogan and we started talking about how the town of Milliken supported their use of the slogan and how they sponsored a great many activities in the town. As the gentleman walked away I spotted another ‘sign’ that really caught my attention. The gentleman had lost his left leg, not an unusual thing for me to see these days, but it was his remaining leg that transfixed me. There, on his calf was a large arrow pointing to his artificial limb with some writing above the arrow. I had to ask, “What does the tattoo say?”

“I’m with stumpy.” was the reply.


A full hour ensued with inquiries about the loss of the leg (Stumpy), when it occurred, and how he came up with the very interesting ‘sign’ he posted on his right calf. That is how I met and learned that the gentleman lost his leg in service to our country, his recovery aspects at the field hospital, Germany, Walter Reed, and here at home, his humor in dealing with a difficult physical issue, and how he was tired of seeing folks staring and not taking the time to ask about his injury. So, the resultant tattoo, “I’m with Stumpy”.

Not only did I get a good chuckle I gained a new friend and an invitation to the restaurant. Not bad for asking about the use of three words, “I’m with Stumpy”

We get trained, train others and retrain on how to use ‘signs’ , physical and intangible, to initiate conversations, relationships, and deep interactions with visitors, but too often we are too shy, too PC, too hesitant to utilize all that is offered us.

When we take to the field we need to better train ourselves to take chances, to better ourselves in recognizing the gifts that our visitors offer and to better ourselves through recognizing our mistakes and improving ourselves with our foibles and strengths. Even when overwhelmed with numbers of visitors, it is our obligation to not think of them as a horde, but to note each as an individual so that we might better serve them, our sites, and our fields.

So, “Here’s your sign…”

John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Programs

To Honor…

To Honor …

I wish to go off my normal tract this month.

June 6th Marks the 70th. anniversary of the Normandy landings. Seventy years since so many men went bravely onto the beaches and dropped into the back lands of Normandy to do battle. Seventy years since thousands stood and defended the Atlantic Wall that those Allied soldiers, sailors, and airman attacked.

There will be thousands going to the site to honor those that fought and hundreds that will be there as living history interpreters that wish to illustrate the conflict, its tools and combat techniques, as well as to lead tours and answer questions.

My father was an I & R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) soldier attached to the 2nd Rangers (of “Finding Private Ryan” fame), that climbed the cliffs of Pont Du Hoc. I will allow you to take the time and effort to seek the history of these brave men. He had trained, lived with, partied, and knew so many of the young men that did not come back from that part of the battle. He has never fully recited his experiences on that section of the battle field. When consulting with the aforementioned film, he had a break down that caused him to seek mental and spiritual aid for many months. During that time my understanding of what one man experienced in such circumstances increased a thousand fold, both through sessions with him and research through speaking with others who served with him and official records.

Those patch work explorations provided a better understanding of the ‘whole’ that his one man lived through that day. Nearly all were moments of fear, distress, adrenalin rushed moments, sorrow, anger, fatigue, and relief. There were moments of humors as well; the moment father swallowed his plug of tobacco, which, ironically, he was chewing to relieve him of seasickness, his remembering the German soldier who was manning his machine gun in his underwear, (father has stated he kept wondering if the man was getting his legs burned by the expelled and hot shells as they fell around the soldiers feet, and the moment father and two others found a bottle of wine in a bunker that, in the middle of the battle they tiffed over in who now owned the prize.

There were far too many moments of battle strung horror that still haunt my father’s dreams.

He is but one of thousands, Allied troops and defenders who had stories to tell and memories to keep.

Most are now gone and those that remain soon will join their brethren in the place of peace reserved for all warriors who have already seen purgatory.

How do we interpret those stories? Do the complete narrations come through with a costumed interpreter? How does that person truly tell the whole story when the concentration only covers that specific moment in time and does not tell the aftermath, good and bad. Do static displays truly convey the personal emotions experienced at that moment in time. Do we need more interpretations of the families of both sides as they receive word that a loved one died on that day? Do parades, celebrations, expressions of gratitude express enough of the tale? Will the public who walk those shores and cliffs, truly better understand the lives of those involved?

These are questions I have examined through 50 years of living history costumed interpretation, whether I am presenting my field of study, the American Civil War, or daily life in a new Colorado town in the 1880′s. I have many opinions but not full concrete answers. I do know that it goes far beyond entertainment or, if you will, “interpretainment”. I know that , as interpreters, we are obligated not to forget those that went before us, or to make a mockery of their lives.

Above the beaches of Normandy sit numerous graves, graves of thousands from a multitude of nations who did not leave the battlefields of Europe. There are many such sites throughout the world honoring men and women who have given “ the last full measure and who are slumbering among their comrades.

At these sites are many who interpret, guide, and assist those who come to honor those who rest beneath the soil.

It is hear I have witnessed some of the most impressive interpretation of the conflict of war: complete contemplative silence.

These moments have been some of the most provoking and impressive moments I have seen in interpretation. And whether it is above Normandy, Sharpsburg, Grafton, West Virginia, Auschwitz, Dachau, the Arizona, Omdurman, or any of the conflictual sites and cemeteries I have visited, I have seen amazing moments that honor the past and the men and women who lived those moments.

So I offer you, the reader, a moment to reflect on what this single date offers us to remember; the moment that changed a world’s history.

To my father, thank you and to my eldest daughter, Heather, I can not express to you how much it meant to your grandfather that you were born on that date, when his years had been filled with dread in recalling what he had witnessed at Normandy, and how he could celebrate the 37th anniversary of D-Day with your birth and look forward to the day, June 6th, without fear.

In honor to all who sacrificed that day, on both sides. In honor to those who were there and survived, contributing so much. In honor of all their families.

John C.F. Luzader

Vice President of Programs

A Strong Foundation

A Strong Foundation

This missive needs a bit of a preface.

On the night of September 12/13 of last year we experienced a major flood throughout the front range of Colorado. The property that I live on lies along the Thompson River and we endured , like so many others, the affects of the flood on the Thompson. Though we keep our house the structure suffered roof damage from the accompanying storm and we fought the issue of black mold, loss of electricity, loss of acreage, trees, a well house, and since our return in January, water that comes from the rebuilt well house that is the color of strong tea.

There have been other issues that have kept us from our home these past few months as well, but that is another story for another time.

The reconstruction and rehabilitation that has taken place, and continues to take place, along the river changes the entire dynamics and ecology of area creating a new evolving ‘normal’ to the arena. Beyond the physical remains of debris, the damages from the flood, the sand and silt and rocks, and the continuous sounds of reconstruction from heavy machinery, there is the emotional rehabilitation that occurs in living in what is, in effect, a disaster zone.

I am far from being the only person that has suffered so and as the news continues to report new calamities of flooding, fires, tornadoes, war, earthquakes, et al, it is obvious that many will have similar experiences and tales to relate as I.

It is difficult to find one single aspect that I can address in relating any aspect of the past seven and a half months that might reflect the turmoil that any go through under these circumstances. However, this past weekend offered an example.

The property I live upon was bought and built upon by my wife’s grandfather. He built here when he was the minister to the woman’s facility across the river that was owned and operated by Cotner College, so many decades ago. He and his wife cleared the land, built the house, and established a family ‘homestead’ here. It is now owned as family property to be maintained for generation after generation. The facility across the river was purchased by one of his former employees and became Sylvan Dale Dude Ranch in 1946. It is still a dude ranch owned by that same family. Upon these properties a number of fruit trees were planted in the 1920′s. Most are now gone with the few remaining tress acting as sentinels to the past. One such tree is on our property.

One of the changes that took place with the flood and its aftermath was the loss of a number of trees along the river basin that protected properties from the very high winds that flow down the canyon. These winds regularly reach seventy to eighty miles an hour during periods in the Spring and Winter. One such wind storm came through the canyon this past week and struck our property and tore that sole surviving heritage apple tree that sits near our home. The two main branches that came up from the trunk were torn asunder from the trunk.

Five generations of my wife’s family have picked fruit from that tree. Squirrels, birds, and five generations of my wife’s family, including my wife, my children, and my grandchildren, have played among its branches, sat on its man frame, posed for pictures, swung from its branches and had it as part of heir lives.

Now all that remains is a single section of its trunk, a trunk that sits on a good foundation of soil and stone that resisted the gale force winds.

That sound so final and sad.

But, the story continues. Much like the foundation that my wife’s grandfather established for his family on this land, a foundation of a center, of faith, of ‘homestead’ and of continuance of family lives, the trunk of the tree still lives. It has gone through trauma, trauma that many would consider cause for its destruction, but it lives. Spouts and shoots already were started on the trunk and they are in flower promising renewal.

With care and attendance we are hoping that those indications of renewed life will thrive and grow allowing future generations to once again play among its branches and garner fruit from its limbs. It will be a different tree, maybe stronger, or weaker, but it will be from the same foundation of that planting from the 1920′s that has been a part of this family’s lives for nearly 100 years. More than likely my wife and I will never sit again on an outreaching limb from that trunk, nor will we set a swing on a branch to swing any child. However, my grandchildren might do so, and their children’s children and so forth. All because it sits on a strong foundation.

Here’s the lesson part; so much of what we do as interpreters and administrators and consultants is to build a strong foundation for the future. We should expect; no, we should desire evolution, change and growth from any program, event, site, and organization we create. It is not important that everything stays the same, but only that we establish a strong ethical foundation that future generations may look to and thank us for creating.

John C.F. Luzader

Vice President of ProgramsImage

Passion! : A gift and a curse.


When I was being trained by Freeman Tilden he emphasized and re-emphasized the importance of passion in the fields of interpretation. But what happens when passion becomes a detriment, or blockage in productivity.
As a historian my primary passion is the past. As the son of a historian, that passion was infused in me through osmosis by my father and his associates. I was mentored that history is important to all societies in order to better understand ourselves, the processes of how we became what we are and to set the foundations of what we will become. It is important that we maintain as true a recitation of all perspectives of our pasts as is possible in order to better know ourselves.

However, the process can also be detrimental to us when we become stuck in an unchanging and
un-reassessing view of the past. In programming we see it when events, displays, and ideas are consistently static; the same presentations and demonstrations being performed year after year without change with the common remark, “ but the people like it.”
Too often, it is just easier to not put the effort forward to better research and present the interpretive materials and programs.

In structural aspects of agencies and organizations we often find ourselves stuck in the history of the system, citing and re-citing the manner is which the organization was founded, developed and brought into action. We often witness ourselves becoming bogged down in the past of how things have “always been done” when we examine the needs of administrating and creating policies of an association in rapidly changing times.
We are an association caught in the flux of dynamical modification. We are needing to reexamine the ‘how and whys’ of what we are and how we can improve ourselves each and every day. The development and recreating of our strategic plan and how the organization functions is part of that change as are how we fund ourselves, conduct business, and provide services to our membership.
We can expect changes in workshops, how we communicate, what services NAI provides and how we recruit and seek new members.
It is a time not to get stuck in the history of the past; to remember it and understand it, yes, but to be flexible enough to understand how to evolve for the future of the organization, its fields, and its life. Let’s use our passions for the love of the fields of interpretation and NAI to better ourselves and not allow impassioned responses deter our growth.

John C.F. Luzader, Vice President of Programs

Fixing NAI’s Past Failure

It was 60 years ago this year when the first group of our elders came together to talk about forming a group that would organize to represent this thing called interpretation. Rey Carlson of Indiana University was the host, and Bradford Woods was the location. This initial meeting led to other gatherings that eventually led a few years later to the founding of the Association of Interpretive Naturalists. About this time, a group of like-minded interpretive siblings on the west coast of the U.S. had similar desires and founded the Western Interpreters Association.

By now, most heritage interpreters, NAI members or not, have likely heard various stories of those early years. Faded photographic images make their rounds in related textbooks, videos and other historical venues giving us an idea of what it looked and felt like in the beginning. So many great names have been associated and identified with those old meetings. So many more names are not so well known, but their contribution to our evolution is real. The reality is that there have been so many that have been a part of our “Tribe”. So many stories about so many adventures exist in our rich history. So many in our past have done so much in this thing called interpretation, which is usually both a vocation and an avocation.   So many good people before us have and so many good people currently are “doing” good, and some great, interpretation.

And yet, looking at our 60th year, and looking at all we have done as an organized group of interpreters, we may have ultimately failed in our effort. We may have done great things “at” our profession, but how have well have we done things “for” our profession? I am afraid, that question might not yield a very gracious picture.

In our 60 years, tens, perhaps hundred thousands of the tribe have motivated, provoked, excited, and advocated for our universe’s historical, cultural, natural and physical resources. We have connected many people with the inherent stories of existence on this earth and emboldened many to broaden their perspectives on their lives.

But what have we done for our profession? Have we elevated the status of our Tribe in our respective work places? How much more are heritage interpreters respected in agencies or organizations? Is heritage interpretation in the mainstream of management objectives of resource agencies? How much in the public lexicon do we find “heritage interpretation?” Do members of the Tribe feel more secure about their status because of NAI?

Here is the question I raise – should we not be better recognized, compensated, or appreciated after 60 years of organized existence? Reality seems to indicate that, despite all of our apparent success, organization and growth, NAI has not been a forceful enough voice for the Tribe.

Do not fret as all is not lost. We can still build on the foundation established by our predecessors. We can and we must take the initiative now and elevate the global status of heritage interpretation. But we must do it now! I propose that we look at the next 60 years and direct our efforts to excel our professional progeny to better the status of the Tribe. We do not want to look back and make the same assessment we are making now. It is time to change.

Here is how we can do it. NAI is actively mapping out the strategic future of our Tribe. I suggest that NAI make a focused, purposeful and directed effort to develop, advance and promote heritage interpretation into the mainstream of everyday life. For this, we must establish NAI as the voice to advocate for heritage interpretation and heritage interpreters. It must be NAI’s purpose to empower interpreters to become a stronger voice as advocates for our cultural, natural and global resources. NAI itself must be empowered to be the advocate and activist source for interpreters and interpretation.

The time is right for us to pull the pin on the proverbial grenade of growth and prominence to enter a new era of what our elders came to imagine in 1954.  It is time to raise our voices! 

May the Tribe increase…. no… May the Tribe Evolve!


Cem Basman, PhD, CIT, CIP

NAI Vice President for Administration

Past and Present

Past to Present

Last week one of my heroes passed from this world into another.

In the 60′s and 70′s I was a “Folkie”; a listener and follower of the Weavers, the Mitchell Trio, New Christy Minstrels, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary with a sprinkling of Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills,Nash, and Young. Leading the pack was Pete Seeger, ‘apprentice’ of Woody Guthrie and mentor to so many of us.

Pete Seeger was a leader in our emotional and actual participation in proactive challenges to the ‘norm’ and instigator and mentor to peaceful protests. I was fortunate in seeing him not only in concert, but in protests actions, not as a ‘star supporter’ but as one with the masses. 

His music transcended beyond just music and into the realms of political and environment activist, humorous, historian, lecturer, and , in my opinion, and interpreter.

I can not adequately describe the emotions and excitement of being in a mass of people, marching on Washington and singing in a syncopated unison, “We shall over come” inspired by the song’s Creator. It is a moment that can never be adequately recreated for the simple fact that we can never clone the emotions involved in the participation of public protests when being watched and surveyed  by law enforcement and the media: fear, excitement, the feeling of being part of a greater whole, and camaraderie.

I shall miss him.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the entity that represents public media: Facebook. I am still amazed at the ability that organization provided and still provides in reuniting and introducing people, organizations and ideas to people worldwide. It is a resource that I have regularly utilized and that made me better prepared in using other newer media resources. It seems so new and yet now has a decade of history behind it.

Through Facebook I have promoted sites, organizations, and events, and, been reunited with friends four decades after I last saw them. It is something I never thought I would witness.

Both these past and the present experiences offer grand interpretive moments. Each provoked new thoughts, new actions, and new visions. Each proved that there are no real ‘norms’ in the world, but that the world can be changed dramatically by just one person.

“We shall overcome…”.


John C.F. Luzader  Vice President of Programs



What do you know – iChanged!

As the hype and circumstance of this season’s Super Bowl slowly engulfs our lives, I am taken aback by the fact that it was 30 years ago that the legendary and iconic Apple Computer Company aired its one-time commercial introducing the Macintosh computer. It was also the year I recall having hovered over the Macintosh display at my local computer store, harangued by friends who already owned one, until I could no longer resist and caved in to the pull of the cult. I purchased my first Mac. It was 1984 and I knew what I had become an unmistakable Mac-o-phile! 


For thirty years I unabashedly spewed the virtues of anything Apple and eschewed anything associated with a “PC” identity. The latter were infidels to my cozy and familiar iWorld. Being an “early adaptor” type, I pooled available, or at times unavailable, resources to keep up with the latest innovation my brothers and sisters at Apple had newly designed for me. It wasn’t often that you caught me with a past version (v.) or previous model of any Apple related soft or hardware. Once, I even wrote a grant that allowed me to purchase the very first Mac laptop – right off the fabrication line. It cost over $5,000 and had 20 megabytes of storage, 2 megabytes of memory and weighed as much as a toddler. I knew I had the world by its tail. In fact, that laptop was actually faster and more powerful than the mainframe computer at Colorado State University for the first few months I had it. University technicians would visit my office to lust and drool over this piece of masterful machinery.


I went through generations of Mac computers (the short-lived iCube is still the favorite), including the experiment with the third-party manufacturers. Then came the other “i” craze: the iPod (my first generation one still sits in my desk drawer.) By my calculations, my iTunes adventure has now cost me more than a round-trip ticket to Europe. All this was followed by the insanity of the iPhone revolution. With this one, I stumbled a little. It took me a few months to comprehend why Stephen Jobs (Apple Co. founder, genius & CEO) would want to waste time with cell phones.  After purchasing one though, I came around quickly.  Of course, then came the tsunami of the iPad.


I was thoroughly pickled in the serum of Apple’s essence. My snide retort to any non-Apple heathen was “I don’t even know how to turn on one of those PC’s…” I was, in truth, a poster-child of the Apple elite, the ultimate Mac snob.   Then the unthinkable happened…


It started with my daughters Emma and Erica going to the Dark Side. I couldn’t conceive why and how they could be happy with their Android powered cell phones. To my astonishment, they even did things I wasn’t capable of doing on my iPhone. I was puzzled. They weren’t having more fun with their machines, were they?!


Then came iPhone’s new operating system, which felt completely counter to any of their loyal old-guard followers like me, especially those with failing vision issues. Even after writing the Apple CEO and speaking to someone in their executive offices I was unimpressed with their desire to take care of us “original soldiers”.  I felt abandoned. To cut to the chase, after reviewing operating systems, screen sizes, operating options…..I bought my first non-Apple instrument, a Samsung phone!  To my astonishment, I have found it to be a worthy device. My Apple cocoon has been breeched. Today, I am spending countless hours relating to a different world and language with my new hand held friend.


So then, how does this relate to the world of heritage interpretation? Very simple.  I wonder how many of us prevent ourselves from expanding to views, experiences and opportunities outside of our set comfort zones? How many of us keep doing the same programs we have always done, whether they have progressed with the times or not? What was once cutting edge – is it still? Do we ask ourselves if there are adjustments or changes that we could make to keep up with today’s audience? With the evolving boomer audience, have some of them aged out of our old program formats –  due to mobility, vision or hearing loss?  Have we adapted for them? On the other hand, are we reaching today’s younger audience with their swift technological adaptability?


It is always easiest to stay within one’s comfort zone. We all do it. Do we really relate and respond to the needs of our audience? That is the important question. Are we asking ourselves “what can I do to update, change, or energize my programs?” Sometimes, we even have to take a look at what we think as the Dark Side to see new ideas. Don’t be afraid to make a change.


As for me – don’t worry.  At this year’s Superbowl, I still enjoyed being surrounded by my Mac Mini, iPad Air, iCinema Display Monitor. They are still glowing examples of iTechnology that is working for me. But an addition to my iLair  I now have my new Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, just in case someone wants to call, text, or air drop a message about the game. And in the meantime, I’ll be ever vigilant and controlling my emotions to any potential cult-effusing commercials.


Cem M. Basman

NAI Vice President for Administration