Interpretation in Colonial Williamsburg

I would like to focus my research topic on Colonial Williamsburg somehow.  The process of interpretation is one option; how do you decide what the “right” method of interpreting is.  Is it consistent in Colonial Williamsburg, do all interpreters stay in character or do they talk to visitors as if they live in the 21st century?  I recently visited the Coffee House in CW and the Governor’s Palace on the same day and the tours differed in the way information was given by the interpreters.  At the Coffee House they all stayed in character and only mentioned the 18th century.  At the Governor’s Palace they acted as tour guides from the 21st century and did not hesitate to mention the present; because of this I learned more about the process of how the Palace was rebuilt as well as its history in Colonial times.
Should interpreters bring up more recent developments, such as the archaeology of the site, or is the main goal to stay in character and inform visitors strictly about the past?   How are some interpreters better or worse; is it the more accurate information they give or the more entertaining and captivating they are? Do different buildings in Colonial Williamsburg have different approaches to interpretation and educating the public, if not how strict are the guidelines for interpreters?
I have visited many historic houses in the area on trips for a class, so I’ve seen many different approaches that docents take when giving tours and educating the public.  Some of the information is wrong, or other times it is factual, but misleading to the public.  Some have been in costume, while others wear modern clothes; I wonder if this has any impact on the way the public perceives them or if it changes the way they give out information.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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