One of the most pressing concerns facing archaeologists and cultural resource managers in the twenty-first century is how to protect cultural resources for meaningful research and future investigation while ensuring access to citizens who, in many cases, own the resource. In the face of the failure of legislation to protect cultural resources, public education and outreach programs appear to be the most effective tools available to managers.
Maritime cultural resources are interpreted for the public with the aim of encouraging access, educating visitors, and preserving the resource. These are fine goals which, in most cases, are met. The problem, however, is that while interpreted in situ maritime resources often are promoted as underwater or open-air museums, they rarely are managed as such. Museological techniques and, especially, the theoretical approach of the New Museology can effectively be applied in the establishment and management of underwater archaeological preserves, shipwreck parks, and maritime heritage trails.
This dissertation examines the history and new approaches of museology to provide a theoretical background, and explores existing preserve, park, and trail programs to provide an overview of current practices. Knowledge gained from practical experience together with the theoretical approach of New Museology is applied to the public interpretation of in situ maritime cultural resources. The result, the Cayman Islands Maritime Heritage Trail, is presented as a case study for the use of museum theory and working models in creating new heritage attractions. Strategies and issues in creating preserves, parks, and trails, both theoretical and practical, are discussed.
This research contributes to the field of submerged and maritime cultural resource management a comprehensive, scholarly discussion of practical and theoretical strategies used in public interpretation of in situ maritime cultural resources and the testing of these strategies through a real-world case study. This dissertation provides cultural resource managers and archaeologists with a theoretical framework for increasing the perceived value of their resources through public involvement and effective interpretation, and with a practical reference for initiating and sustaining successful public outreach programs through heritage tourism at maritime historical sites.