Wisconsin 101 is a web based, public history project that uses objects of all kinds to tell local and regional histories of our state with geographical ties to the state of Wisconsin. We accept contributions from anyone having an interest in local history.


Writers contribute essays in two parts:

  1. Object description – a brief description of the object addressing its material, use, fabrication, etc.
  2. Related history – one or more researched essays on historical topics that relate to the object and describe its connection to a locality. Related stories might discuss how the object was used or made, who made or used it, or how it influenced some key event in Wisconsin history.

Example: The Mepps Fishing Lure is a brief entry that describes the object. There are also three related histories, including the Mepps squirrel tail technology and how it improved fishing, how the Mepps lure began to be made in Antigo, and the history of fishing on the Wolf River.

Why object-based history?

An “object history” tells stories about the past by starting with a particular physical object.

Our lives are spent interacting with the physical world, building and using objects to shape our environments and everyday experiences. We may often overlook them, but even the most everyday things—a soda bottle, a serving dish, a vinyl record—have their own unique historical contexts.

Objects are thus windows into the past. They shape our occupations, habits, and traditions. They document past events and serve as physical reminders of the thoughts, values, and experiences of people long gone. Especially evocative objects—an enormous telescope, a collection of antique medical equipment, or an iconic piece of dairying technology—can capture our attention and lead us into history in ways we might never have imagined.

The object histories of Wisconsin 101’s online exhibit bring to life important and unusual stories about our shared past. Whether everyday things or one-of-a-kind rarities, the stuff of Wisconsin sits at the center of this historical project.

Guidelines for object description

When writing the object description, consider some of the following prompts to get started.

  1. Describe the object (imagine an audience that cannot see the object). Looking at this object, are there special things we can learn about how to look at historical objects, or special things we might notice by looking closely? If so, please make sure to mention them. If it applies, think of this as your opportunity to teach student how to look at an object like this in the future.
  2. Address when and where the object was made or used. Please make a special effort to ground objects in a local place in Wisconsin.
  3. Explain who made the object, if it is relevant. How did they make it? Out of what materials? Using what knowledge?
  4. Include at least one sentence about how this object connects to a specific place in Wisconsin.
  5. Include at least one sentence about how this object connects to a broader theme in Wisconsin history.
  6. Address what you think the historical significance of the object could be.
  7. Address what concept or lesson students in Wisconsin should take away from their encounter with this object. (e.g. what does this object teach us about (pick one) technology, culture, innovation, immigration, exploration, industry, etc.?)
  8. You may also introduce any interesting multimedia material you may have found—like a recording of a song materially connected to the story at hand, or a link to an interview connected to the story, etc.

The object description should be quite short. Should you want to elaborate on a story relating to one of the questions here, you can do so in the related history. For instance, you may mention the maker (individual or manufacturer) in the object description and then write a history about the maker in a related history.

In total, your object description should be around 400-500 words.

Guidelines for related history

We encourage original research, use of primary sources, and thoughtful histories. As you begin to write, you may consider the following prompts to begin exploring related history topics.

First paragraph: Introduces the main idea (what, when, where, and why) of the story that will be elaborated on in the following paragraphs.

In the following 3-4 paragraphs, please consider addressing:

  1. Who were the key players, people or organizations? How did they relate to one another? When were they alive / active?
  2. What problems did your subjects (person, organization, object, etc.) solve? How did they solve them? What were their purposes? Why were they important? How did they contribute to further development?
  3. How does this story relate to Wisconsin? What communities were involved and what was the impact? Where do we see traces of the subject today?
  4. What technologies were involved? How did they work? How did they change over time? How did they impact their communities?
  5. What is the historical significance of the history? How does it relate to other historical stories and other places?
  6. Address what concept or lesson students in Wisconsin should take away from their encounter with this object. (e.g. what does this object teach us about (pick one) technology, culture, innovation, immigration, exploration, industry, etc.?)

For each related story, please list at least three relevant primary or secondary sources. Although historians often emphasize the importance of primary sources, don’t forget that secondary sources offer valuable insight and context for making your story appeal to readers from across Wisconsin.

In total, the related history should be approximately 600-750 words.


We encourage authors to use high resolution images from the Wisconsin Historical Society database or Creative Commons sources such as Wikimedia Commons or Flikr. All images require the author to acquire permissions (if not acquired through Creative Commons) and provide appropriate photo credits. Ideally authors should include one photo per one to two paragraphs.

Basic credit format: Photographer, “Image Title,” date of photograph, museum item number if available, source information.

Please submit images as jpeg.

Style Guidelines

Please refer to the Wisconsin 101 Style Sheet for guidance on writing style, citations, and addressing exclusion and discrimination.

General Guidelines

Submit Microsoft Word document with Times New Roman size 12 font.

Email your proposal, along with your full name, email address, affiliation (if applicable), and phone number, to the Wisconsin 101 managing editor. We welcome inquiries on object and related histories before submitting your draft.


Contact our managing editor: wi101@history.wisc.edu.