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HIST 3192 - Aztec, Inka, and Maya: Indigenous Empires in Latin America

A guide to help you do research for your StoryMaps assignment.

Brainstorming Topics

Figuring out what and how you need to research for a class assignment is always a hard place to start. Something that can help is answering the following questions:

  • What am I interested in? What am I curious about? What would be fun to look into?
  • What questions do I have that I'd like to explore?
  • What can I research that translates well to a StoryMap geared towards new learners? 

It's helpful to write down a list of questions or topics as they come to your mind. Then start to draw connections between your thoughts. What central topics or subjects are coming up for you? 

Remember to look at your course textbooks & assigned class readings - tables of contents, further reading sections, and references can be great sources for ideas. These handbooks are also a good place to start:

Creating a Search Strategy

Before you start searching, define your search strategy. This will help you:

  • identify the most relevant databases and collections to search in
  • break down your research into manageable parts
  • search more efficiently and effectively

Start forming your strategy by thinking about the different aspects of your topic. For example, let's say you wanted to research traditional plant medicine of the Aztecs. This could relate to Anthropology, Ethnobotany, Biology, and History. This can help you determine what databases you'll use to find articles and sources. 

Next, think about what type of content you need to look for to better understand this topic. For our example topic, we probably want to look for background information on types of plants, so we could look in field guides and medical encyclopedias. We also want to know and convey where those plants grew, so we want to look for maps. We should also try to find images of those plants and tools, objects, and decorative art related to handling those plants.

Identify Keywords & Search Terms

For each of your concepts, brainstorm as many different/related keywords or synonyms as you can to describe that concept:

  • plant medicine: ethnobotany, traditional ecological knowledge, ethnopharmacology, plant ecology, herbal medicine, healers
  • Aztec: Nahuatl, Nahua, Chichimeca, Mexica, indigenous + (modern geographic place names, like Oaxaca)

Brainstorming potential search terms helps make sure you don't miss relevant research because you used different language to describe your topic. As you start searching, update this list in your research journal with any new terms that you discover.

Be sure to look at the related Subject terms when you do a library search - there can be more suggestions for keywords you can then use in your search. (Pictured below is a record for a journal article from a Summon search, with the Subject terms listed on the right side):

A library record of a journal article from Summon titled "Medical ethnobotany of the Zapotecs of the Isthmus-Sierra (Oaxaca, Mexico): Documentation and assessment of..." and a list of Subject terms on the right side.

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