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History 230: The Roots of English Society & Politics: Life of an Object: More Tips

This course guide is intended for students enrolled in Prof. Katherine Allen Smith's course. It provides links to relevant resources and suggests assignment-specific research strategies.

Writing Captions

Each slide within your StoryMap project should include a caption of 25-150 words.  In the library and museum worlds, these captions are viewed as interpretive acts.  You are not just conveying information; you are attempting to provoke a response in your audience.  When you have only a few words in which to do that, every word counts! 

Beverly Serrell, in her Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, 2nd edition (Rowan & Littlefield, 2015) suggests that you focus on trying to answer the following questions in your captions:

  • What am I looking at and why is it important?  [Start broad and then narrow down to specific elements as needed.]
  • What is the big idea here?  How does this one object figure into a larger narrative?
  • What is something significant about this object that the average viewer wouldn't know or couldn't know just by looking at the object?
  • Is there controversy about this object?
  • Are there unanswered questions about this object?

The Getty Museum's Guide to Adult Audience Interpretive Materials suggests a very similar set of questions:

  • What is it?
  • Why is it here and why should I care?
  • What is the story or symbolism?
  • How was it made?
  • How was it used?
  • What can I discover by looking more carefully?



Undertaking Additional Research

If you'd like to do a bit more research beyond what's available in subject encyclopedias, here are a few good strategies to use:

  1. Search Primo for books that are listed in the bibliographies of encyclopedia entries.  You won't need to read the entire book, just the sections that help you interpret your object.
  2. Search JSTOR for scholarly articles that may reference or help you interpret your object.  [JSTOR is a convenient, full-text database, but it doesn't not contain current scholarship.]
  3. Search ITER, a subject database devoted to medieval studies, for a more expansive set of books, essays in books, and scholarly articles.
  4. Search HSTM (History of Science, Technology and Medicine) particularly when you're interested in how the object was made or if it relates to medicine or aspects of warfare.