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What is "Fair Game" for a History research paper and/or thesis?


thedig13

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I'm just wondering, because some of my "historical" interests involve pretty recent events and parties. For example, the Blood Diamond Trade in Sierra Leone, the cyber-activism group Anonymous, the martyrdom of Khaled Said, the Rodney King Riots, etc.

Where, exactly, does a prospective paper stop becoming "front page news" and start becoming a "historical" research?

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Well the Rodney King Riots happened in 92, and 20 years from then would be 2012...research on this event would definitely be doable now. However, I feel as though research has been done on this event for a while now, especially in studies on black-white race relations.

Edited by ZeeMore21
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some more traditionalist Unis consider 50+ years necessary to be History. That aside, there is work being done on the 80s nowadays, although it kinda steps on the heels often of other disciplines: cultural studies, poli sci, etc, in that 80s topics were often being studied as current events.

but there are opportunities. A friend of mine as a historian is studying the Reagan admin, which thus far, in a historical context, is mostly poli-sci hagiographies, so he has a wide opportunity to critique.

try to find a way to really root a 20-year old recent topic into History: historical context of the events themselves, historical consciousness pertaining to Event X, or even critiquing the approaches of well-studied topics like the Rodney King beating and place those scholars and their works into a historical context.

the cyber group Anonymous is still active, so might be hard; you work might be obsolete before it's completed (unless you wanted to link it to precursor groups, whistle-blowers/resisters etc).

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So, do you think the Blood Diamond Trade in Sierra Leone with the RUF is fair game? Or should I focus more on, say, the Weather Underground Organization of the late 1960s?

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The trade started in the late 80s, so I'm sure it will would be fine to look into Sierra Leone and blood diamonds. The events leading up to this trade would also be valuable, so you would also be looking at the years before the trade.

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the cyber group Anonymous is still active, so might be hard; you work might be obsolete before it's completed (unless you wanted to link it to precursor groups, whistle-blowers/resisters etc).

How would I do that? Can you give me an example of how I would approach that?

Edited by thedig13
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I was thinking of making comparisons, drawing correlations to earler, pre-Internet whistleblowing.

I don't know enough specifics, other than that there is a long history of whistleblowing. Roberta Johnson's book Whistleblowing: When it Works and Why might be a good starting place. and you could raid her bibliography for more sources/ideas.

Edited by Henry Hudson
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I was thinking of making comparisons, drawing correlations to earler, pre-Internet whistleblowing.

I don't know enough specifics, other than that there is a long history of whistleblowing. Roberta Johnson's book Whistleblowing: When it Works and Why might be a good starting place. and you could raid her bibliography for more sources/ideas.

So, for example, would a research paper examining the similarities, differences, and connections between the Weather Underground of the Hippie Generation and the Anonymous movement of the modern age be treated as a legitimate history paper?

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I did my 2008 BA Thesis on a series of events that happened in the late nineties, and there was no problem - and I got accepted into great (as in the best) History PhD Programs basing my Writing Sample on that.

IMO "History" is a way to do research, approach the sources, and write, and not at all something related to how long ago it happened.

That said, I have met several historians disagreeing, professors not allowing me to do my papers on some issues because they were "too recent" and so on. But these were usually far from being the best historians in their own research and teaching.

Edited by modern
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Well, I'm not in history (though I will likely be taking a history graduate course in the fall and my work is, in part, historical-institutional in nature), but I'd have to agree with modern's post that 'History' is more a method, subject to common sense. I don't think Obama's presidency, for instance, could be treated as a 'historical subject', unless it was more of a chronicling of 'how we got here' rather than the events of recent years themselves. But Bush's presidency is, to me, fair game for historical treatment; I've seen and read about a number of professional discussions among historians on the topic. Certainly, I'd think Clinton's presidency is historical.

Just a note on someone mentioning Reagan and "poli-sci hagiographies": I guess to have to stick up for my discipline here and suggest you not confuse 'political' with 'political-scientific'. Yes, there are many recent books which arise out of what can only be described as a 'Cult of Reagan' or 'Reagan fetish' or some such thing, but these are, to my knowledge, all books written by conservative politicos (i.e., hacks), not professional political scientists. And I might add that I recall reading a book by Sean Wilentz, "The Age of Reagan"; I don't know how he's regarded in professional historical circles, but I assume it's not too far removed from his more public persona. And I've got to believe that there are other treatments by professional historians on the Reagan years by now.

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