Decoding the Mysteries of Documentation

1.         Basic Format and Information:  There is no official format for documenting a project in Atlantia. However, here are some pointers on the basic information that should appear in your documentation:

  •  Title:  Start with a title.  For example:  A 16th Century Embroidered Coif
  • Personal Information:  Include your name and your contact information.  For example:  “By Lady Berengaria la descalza”  berengaria@yourwebsite.com
  • What it is:  Add a brief description of what the object is.  You have already provided a hint of it in the title.  Now you will add some more information.  For example:  An embroidered coif in black silk over a linen ground, after the extant examples of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
  • History and Purpose: This is where you will provide a brief history of the artifact, including the time period in which this was worn, who wore it, with what purpose, etc.
  • Design and Materials:  A description of your thought process on the design of your artifact, materials used, process used, and final product.
  • Thought Process – Period Artifact vs. Your Artifact:  Describe how your finished product compares to the original period one.  If you used materials or techniques different from the original ones, explain why.  If there is not sufficient information available on this particular subject, explain how you decided on materials and techniques.
  • Lessons Learned:   Describe what you learned from the experience, and what you would do different next time.
  • Sources and Bibliography:  Cite what your sources were.  Actual extant piece, pictorial evidence, books, websites, etc.

 2.         Sources – Primary and Secondary:  When it comes to sources, it is very important to take the following pointers into consideration:

  •  Primary Sources: This is the actual object or document written in that period discussing said object or situation.
  • Secondary Sources:  This is a document or recording that discusses information originally presented elsewhere.

When it comes to writing your documentation, primary sources are the most important ones.  One has to be careful when using secondary sources, and it pays to double-check the information contained in those against other sources of information.

3.         The Internet: One can find some good leads on the Web.  However, printing someone else’s webpage and presenting it as documentation is not going to show your thought process or exactly what you have learned.  Beware also of sources like Wikipedia.  Although there may be some basic information there, it is by no means a reliable source of information. 

4.         Talking to Museum Curators and Conservators:  You don’t need to travel overseas to talk to curators and conservators.  Believe me, these folks are only too happy to talk to anyone who shows an interest in their subject of study.  Visit your museum of choice’s Website, and send an inquiry.  Most of them have contact information for their various departments.  If they don’t, usually the “Contact Us” email will work.

Additionally, look into the collections of museums in the area.  Chances are that there will be something there to interest you.  Contact the museum and make an appointment with your curator of choice to see if you can take a close look at the artifact. Sometimes you get lucky.  If there is no museum around, then email is your friend (see above.)

5.  Footnotes, References, Bibliographies and Style:  Footnotes are your friends.  Whatever information you are going to include in your documentation, it needs to be referenced.  It is not enough that you state that women wore red petticoats in England in the 16th Century, you need to tell where you found that information, who is the author, then name of the book, the page, etc.  And whatever you do, don’t just bring the book and open the page expecting the judge to read it.  The information should already be in your paper.

At the end of the document, you should have a bibliography.  This bibliography should include every book and publication utilized, as well as any Internet source.  In the case of the latter, make sure to include the date on which you consulted it.

A good idea is to check manuals of style such as the Chicago or MLA manuals.  You can find the Chicago Style Manual online at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html.  The MLA Style Manual is not available online, but here is a good reference article http://www.wright.edu/academics/writingctr/mla2.pdf

6.  Credits:  If someone helped you with your research, for instance a curator or conservator, make sure to give thanks in your document.  A phrase such as “I am indebted to so and so for sharing his knowledge with me and answering my questions on ….” will do. If you have used images that do not belong to you, provide credit for those as well.

7.  Pictures and Attachments:  Pictures are a great way to get your point across. Whether it is a picture of an extant object or pictures of your own project in various stages, those images will help get your point across and will give a finished look to your presentation.  As previously discussed, make sure to give credit for images that do not belong to you.

8.  Short vs. Long Documentation:  Should your paper end up being too long you may want to include an executive summary.

9.  Last Word:  Last but not least, remember that documentation is the way you have to not only convey what you have learned, but also to educate others on what you have learned.  It doesn’t have to be a 50 page dissertation (unless that’s what you want to do), but it should be a document that is clear, concise and to the point.

Happy writing!