Nature interpretation research

Last changed: 24 May 2024
A group of people outdoors in front of an information board. Photo.

How can research support the heritage interpreters? What do we know today and which questions can research help us to answer?

Heritage interpretation is a growing research field. SCNI is working to establish it as a research subject in Sweden, by pushing forward and initiating research, development and application throughout Sweden. As a part of this work, SCNI has made research overviews. The center and collaborates with the renowned Professor Emeritus Sam Ham in order to develop the research subject in Sweden.

Our approach to develop research on nature interpretation is three-fold: 1) situated within historical and geographical context of how the practice of interpretation is developed in various contexts of the world as well as in Sweden and the Nordics; 2) guided by critical thinking and openness that can be found in philosophies and theories that have shaped and continue to shape our ideas and use of interpretation; 3) enabled and supported by collaborations across diverse professions, using a critical living lab approach to produce knowledge and tools on a concrete level. Our goal is to support the practice of reflective interpretation, where interpreters not only bridge and facilitate dialogues and relations between society and nature, but also connect a deeper sense of self and being with what is happening in their surrounding. Via our collaboration with Mistra Environmental Communication, we have established a platform for moving towards this goal through such approach: Nature Interpretation Lab (NiLab). (click the link to learn more about it)

SCNI’s first research overview

On behalf of SCNI, Vanessa Coronel and Lars Hallgren from The division of Environmental Communication at SLU made in 2009 an overview of the international research situation. They searched among scientific articles, within subjects such as environmental education, interpretation evaluation and outdoor recreation to find research that is relevant for heritage interpretation. The overview shows that researchers within the subject interpretation tries to answer questions about the efficiency of different methods, about evaluation forms and about what happens with the receiver when interpretation takes place.

The research report on heritage interpration

Elvira Caselunghe from The division of Environmental Communication at SLU made in 2013, on behalf of SCNI, a report on research within heritage interpretation. It was made as a part of the work to initiate research about heritage interpretation. The purpose was to make an inventory of the current research situation and give an overview of Swedish, Nordic and International research that is relevant for development and understanding of heritage interpretation as a phenomenon.

Heritage interpretation is a growing field of activity, but it is not yet established as a research subject in Sweden. There are still no dissertations within the subject of heritage interpretation in Sweden, but research within outdoor recreation, outdoor education, environmental communication, nature resource management, cultural environment pedagogy and nature tourism are examples of tangential and sometimes overlapping fields of research. In this overview, many science orientations and perspectives are included. A common factor is that they can contribute to understand and develop the heritage interpretation's theory and practice. Questions that were a starting point for the work are:

  1. What research have been conducted (in Sweden, other Nordic countries, as well as internationally) that is relevant for the development and understanding of heritage interpretation as a phenomenon?
  2. What is the specific nature of heritage interpretation?
  3. What are the perspectives that separates, respectively unites, the different research fields where heritage interpretation related research is made?

In the concluding synthesis, the need of research within heritage interpretation is discussed with some suggestions for entries.

Read the English abstract of the report here.

Research articles within heritage interpretation

Journal of Interpretation Research is a magazine that presents research articles on heritage interpretation. See previous publications here. 

American researcher builds up research in Sweden

During 2012-2014, the American researcher Sam Ham spent a month per term on SLU. Read more about him here.

SCNI has compiled a presentation about some of all the researchers within heritage interpretation. See the presentation here:

Researchers within heritage interpretation

Here are some of all the researchers within heritage interpretation presented.

Christopher Mayer has worked with interpretation* since 1996 and received a Ph.D. in the subject at Colorado State University. The topic for his thesis was the importance of framing when the quality of a natural visit is concerned. Christopher Mayer is connected to the Center for Protected Area Management (Colorado State University) but lives in Guatemala. He works as a consultant, with among other things education and planning, as well as the building of nature- and culture paths.


David Huxtable is based in Australia but has also worked with a big project in Saudi Arabia. Since 1993, he runs his own company that works with interpretation* and exhibitions. As researcher, he has evaluated different exhibitions and projects and he is not connected to any specific university.  He has however been teaching at several different universities. David Huxtable has a Bachelor's Degree in ”Applied Science in Wildlife and Park Management” and a Diploma in “Museum Studies”. 

Homer C Wu was first in Asia to receive a Ph.D. within the subject of heritage interpretation. He studied in USA and has collaborated close to researchers such as Dr. Sam Ham, Dr. Paul Risk and Dr. Betty Weiler. In1997, he returned to Taiwan and has thereafter developed the subject in his home country. (Chinese); (English)


Jon Kohl is the coordinator of the PUP Global Heritage Consortium and professor of interpretation at the University of Costa Rica. He writes, researches, and develops projects in the field about interpretation and its impact on society. Jon has an interest in demonstrating that interpretation must be relevant to international community and organizational development in order to have impact in society. He is especially interested in converting the expert-driven interpretation development process into something that local communities can control. Many of his ideas he covers in his blog as well as academic, popular, and trade publications in English and Spanish.,,  


Keith Hollinshead conducts research within the subject of tourism and has an interest in interpretation*. He has focused on the tourism's psychological, social and political aspects, rather than the economical. Keith Hollinshead has a Bachelor's Degree in history, A Master's Degree in administration and a Ph.D. title from Texas A&M University in USA. He resides in England and works at the University of Bedforshire, but has also worked in practice with administration, primarily in Australia.


Tema Milstein is a cultural researcher, and she investigates how communication affects the human's relation to nature. Culture and nature are her two main areas. Within her research, she has worked with heritage interpretation in different ways that among other things concerned ecotourism, animal parks and the cultural significance of nature. Questions that she addressed are how knowledge about nature is created and transmitted? How are cultural and ecological perceptions affected through communication? How are people's self image changed by culture, environment and communication? Tema Milstein has a journalism background and received a Ph.D. at the University of Washington.


Betty Weiler received a Ph.D. in geography at the University of Victoria in Canada. The subject was “Travel and Geographic Learning: A Study of Perception and Attitude Change in a Japanese Tourist Segment”. Today she works as a Professor at Southern Cross University, the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. She also leads a research team at Monash University. For 20 years, she has taught, researched and written about among other things tourism and nature management.



Swedish Centre for Nature Interpretation (SCNI)
Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)