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Methodology Question: How to deal with others having written about similar topic?


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Hello,
Basically, I am wondering how one is to deal with other scholars that have written about a similar topic or have covered similar/the same phenomenon (my field is history). What I will obviously do at the beginning of a chapter is to discuss the literature that has previously covered the events I wish to write about and explain how I will discuss/interpret these events differently in the article/chapter. But I am wondering whether in the unfolding of my argument that follows, I have to cite these works again for every minor point that others might have made about this topic?

Of course, at the beginning of an article/thesis chapter I discuss the literature that has previously covered the events I wish to write about and explain how I will discuss/interpret these events differently in the article/chapter. I then normally continue to unfold my argument mainly using primary sources and some secondary literature for background and possibly for some summary of the parts of the events I do not cover in detail.
However, even if one's own focus, interpretation of the events and argument is different from previous scholarship on these events and one mainly uses primary sources as evidence for one's writing, I feel that at times one is still bound to make some small points that are not the same but similar to what other historians have said. I am not talking about major arguments here, but rather about small parallels. 

For example, if I discuss the negotiation of a treaty between country A and country B and country B manages to improve the terms of the treaty for itself during the negotiations, this is something that I can show with primary sources (and probably do so more accurately than the previous literature), but others might have mentioned before. In this case, would I need to acknowledge everyone that has mentioned the fact that country B managed to improve the treaty terms? Could I be accused of using the ideas of others without acknowledgement if I do not cite them again for every minor point even if have cited them at the start of the paper?

I am unsure about this because of course one is taught that one should acknowledge the ideas of others. But I do not know if citing them at the beginning of the article/chapter is enough. At the same time, I think that having to acknowledge every parallel with other historians would mean a great increase in footnotes and practically make it impossible to write about events that have been covered by several historians before. I also do not see historians acknowledging such similar points. For example, I recently even came across two books that were published on the same topic and time period and the author of the second book published somewhat later than the first only acknowledged in the introduction that this first book exists and how his own work is different, but does not mention the first book again (except to criticize it) during the rest of the book, even though there are bound to be some parallels.

Apologies for the long post and thanks in advance.
 

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Okay so I am not a historian but I too faced similar questions when including citations for my masters thesis. I don't know that I can answer all of your questions but I do have a few suggestions.

On 8/26/2018 at 12:39 AM, Ranke212 said:

For example, if I discuss the negotiation of a treaty between country A and country B and country B manages to improve the terms of the treaty for itself during the negotiations, this is something that I can show with primary sources (and probably do so more accurately than the previous literature), but others might have mentioned before. In this case, would I need to acknowledge everyone that has mentioned the fact that country B managed to improve the treaty terms? Could I be accused of using the ideas of others without acknowledgement if I do not cite them again for every minor point even if have cited them at the start of the paper?

I think if you acknowledge these other's contributions at the start of your paper that that will cover a lot of your responsibility in citing them. In the case above where you could clearly talk about this treaty negotiation with primary sources I think that will be sufficient when you are talking about this negotiation. However, if there is part of your argument that has been crucially influenced by one of your secondary sources then you should definitely cite them again.

On 8/26/2018 at 12:39 AM, Ranke212 said:

At the same time, I think that having to acknowledge every parallel with other historians would mean a great increase in footnotes and practically make it impossible to write about events that have been covered by several historians before. I also do not see historians acknowledging such similar points.

I would say to follow others in your field. If other historians are not acknowledging similar points I think you could probably follow their lead.

I do also have a general suggestion that if you find you have a ton (over 4 or 5) of footnotes for any one point you could always pair it down to the most important sources. I think as long as you acknowledge that this point has been brought up in the literature before you don't have to cite every source that has made this point. I've been given advice that it is sometimes good to find the first source that used this point to cite and also include a more recent source as well in the sources that you cite. Also keep in mind that if your advisor is good and reads your paper thoroughly they will likely flag areas that you actually need a citation or instances where you have overcited. They should be able to give you a lot of guidance on all of these questions you have posed.

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On 8/29/2018 at 10:16 AM, FishNerd said:

Okay so I am not a historian but I too faced similar questions when including citations for my masters thesis. I don't know that I can answer all of your questions but I do have a few suggestions.

I think if you acknowledge these other's contributions at the start of your paper that that will cover a lot of your responsibility in citing them. In the case above where you could clearly talk about this treaty negotiation with primary sources I think that will be sufficient when you are talking about this negotiation. However, if there is part of your argument that has been crucially influenced by one of your secondary sources then you should definitely cite them again.

I would say to follow others in your field. If other historians are not acknowledging similar points I think you could probably follow their lead.

I do also have a general suggestion that if you find you have a ton (over 4 or 5) of footnotes for any one point you could always pair it down to the most important sources. I think as long as you acknowledge that this point has been brought up in the literature before you don't have to cite every source that has made this point. I've been given advice that it is sometimes good to find the first source that used this point to cite and also include a more recent source as well in the sources that you cite. Also keep in mind that if your advisor is good and reads your paper thoroughly they will likely flag areas that you actually need a citation or instances where you have overcited. They should be able to give you a lot of guidance on all of these questions you have posed.

Thanks! That is really helpful!

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On 8/28/2018 at 6:16 PM, FishNerd said:

I would say to follow others in your field. If other historians are not acknowledging similar points I think you could probably follow their lead.

This well-intended guidance has the potential to lead to catastrophic consequences. What is an acceptable practice for a BTDT who is either the "dean" of a field and/or writing for a general audience may not be a best practice for an up and coming historian writing for an academic journal.

If you are actually writing a piece of diplomatic history (consider this a prompt to disclose the treaty), I recommend that you become intimately familiar with the historiography of the specific treaty,  the broader historiographical debates surrounding the events leading up and following the execution of the treaty, and more broadly still, the debates about the practice of diplomatic history. If you research/skim/read the scholarly literature correctly (or if you just get lucky), you will find at least one article or book chapter that will provide a blue print for what you're attempting to do now. You will find that if you set up your introductory and historiographical remarks efficiently, the subsequent comparison of your findings to others can be equally efficient.

 

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20 hours ago, Sigaba said:

This well-intended guidance has the potential to lead to catastrophic consequences. What is an acceptable practice for a BTDT who is either the "dean" of a field and/or writing for a general audience may not be a best practice for an up and coming historian writing for an academic journal.

I apologize if the advice I gave isn't the best for academic writing in history since I am not familiar with the field. What I thought I was suggesting didn't come through in what I actually wrote because several of the things you mention Sigaba sounds like what I was thinking especially what I quote of your response below.

20 hours ago, Sigaba said:

If you research/skim/read the scholarly literature correctly (or if you just get lucky), you will find at least one article or book chapter that will provide a blue print for what you're attempting to do now. You will find that if you set up your introductory and historiographical remarks efficiently, the subsequent comparison of your findings to others can be equally efficient.

This is what I was really trying to get at in my response. I would look to the academic articles for guidance on citing rules since that is the type of article the OP is writing rather than looking for citing guidance from a piece written for a more generalized audience since that is not the type of piece the OP is writing. In my field I basically only cite academic articles or books and the citation rules are pretty much standard across all my sources so I didn't think my generalized comment could be interpreted very differently for history. Again, sorry if my advice did not hold true for a different field since I am not used to citing rules varying widely across a variety of sources since that doesn't occur in the sources I encounter in my field.

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