Dr. Sam Ham is a well-known name in the interpretation profession. He has just completed a new book entitled Interpretation – Making a Difference on Purpose. His classic first text, Environmental Interpretation – A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets was published in 1992 in English and Spanish. It has served as a cornerstone of teaching thematic interpretation in universities all over the world and was one of the original six texts used in National Association for Interpretation’s certification library. This new book will no doubt provide another lasting contribution to our understanding of the profession.
Sam was kind during his writing process the past two years in showing Lisa Brochu and me the draft chapters and inviting our comments. We shared our thoughts and I hope provided useful ideas as he wrote. He points out in the Author’s Preface that he had prolonged personal discussions with David Larsen of National Park Service about the book over the past five years. He dedicates this book to his three grandchildren and David, recognizing and honoring David for his considerable assistance just before his untimely death.
As a cognitive psychologist and Director of the Center for International Training and Outreach (CITO) at University of Idaho, Sam has conducted research about the effectiveness of interpretation as an approach to influencing the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of people in varied interpretive settings. His 2001 study of work done with Lindblad Expeditions on their Galapagos Islands tours is an important example of how good interpretation can make a difference. He helped Lindblad craft thematic approaches to guided activities that led to a 270% increase in contributions to the Darwin Research Center.
The new book has a deep focus on the research behind Sam’s ideas on the value of thematic interpretation without being mired in academic jargon, so it is useful to everyone in the field. He helps you understand the reasons why thoughtfully planned interpretation can make a difference, so that your work is not just based on a vague hope that what you’re saying is useful or influential. He explains how best to use this interpretive approach to communication in a social marketing effort to motivate people toward more desirable stewardship behaviors and that a “zone of tolerance” is acceptable when developing and delivering thematic messages.
The book is an enjoyable read interlaced with many personal stories. He was kind in asking me to write the Foreword, so I refer you to that for more in-depth thoughts about the book and its value to the profession.
Last week Sam let me know he was about to send a print copy in appreciation of our comments along the way. So it is finally in print after many years of anticipation by those in the field. The book just arrived at my mailbox and I am excited to see the finished copy. I encourage all of you working in this field to acquire one for your library by visiting Amazon now. It is a great investment.
– Tim Merriman