Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Docents Make a Difference

By Jeff Burns

You’ve probably noticed that we Histocrats love good tours, and we’ve taken a lot of tours. We’ve also had experiences with a lot of docents or tour guides, some great and some not so great.  A docent can make or break a visitor’s experience.  We love history so much that it pains us to know that “civilians” sometimes get stuck with a weak docent, and that docent’s performance can affect a visitor’s attraction to history.

On a recent trip to Charleston South Carolina, I experienced the good and the bad.  At Drayton Hall, an antebellum plantation, our tour guide was Mac, a recent graduate with a degree in history.  He embodied all the attributes of a great docent.  First of all, he knew his stuff, but he didn’t pretend that he knew all the answers.  We have had our share of docents who didn’t know their stuff.  That can be dangerous if there are history teachers in the tour group. Secondly, he was a natural.  It didn’t feel like a canned speech, from rote memory.  I’m sure that he hits the same major points with each tour, but it felt like he was talking just to us. At another historic home, the docent was obviously repeating the same memorized script, with no variation, which leads us to point three.  Mac was enthusiastic. It was obvious that he loved the house and he loved his job.  He made our visit to Drayton Hall a wonderful experience.

Docents are an important part of a museum or historic site, and the Histocrats salute all the great ones. Thank you for making history come to life!

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