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Old 22nd September 2021, 03:38 PM   #1
ariel's Avatar
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Posts: 5,178
Default Academic research: musings

Just a general questions related to all of us, but vaguely inspired by the plans to collect photos of Indian warriors armed with khanjarlis.

All scientific investigations are hypothesis driven. Some results confirm the hypothesis, some reject it ( which is equally important). Columbus sailed West to find Asia. He failed: America blocked the passage. But the very finding of a new continent was a darn good consolation prize!
What is the purpose of finding pictures with khanjarlis? We are absolutely certain that inhabitants of Odisha ( formerly Orissa) must have used a lot of those daggers. We may hypothesize that inhabitants of other enclaves in India might have acquired some examples here and there, presumably in inverse correlation to their distance from Odisha and the strength of trade relations between them. No more. Turks and Moghuls used Persian blades: neighbourly exchange. Katanas were great, but Hungarian hussars never used them.
But what will it tell us? What will be the significance of that question and its potential answer?
We may study the distribution of yataghans with their local handles and come up with a result that the T-like pommels are specific to Zeibeks of Western Anatolia and karabela-like handles belong to North Africa. That helps in identifying future examples. But finding photos of Turks, Croats and Poles with karabelas gives us nothing: we have known it for ages. No need to reinvent the wheel.
We see Caucasian, Sardinian, Beduin and Afghani guardless sabers with almost identical handles, or look at Central European Kord ( Bauernwehr) and Afghani Selaawa ( Khyber Knife) that also look like twins, but what does it tell us: their genesis from common precursors? just a simple parallel development? simplicity of manufacture and ergonomic considerations?
Finding images of an Inuit carrying a pineapple or a skiing Congolese tells us that there was such an occurence, but it does not come up to the meaning of a trend. We often say that exceptions prove the rule. That is patently wrong: exceptions establish the existence of a general rule. That is exactly why they are exceptions.

Many of us here ( myself included) more or less seriously engage in research endeavors. This is great! What all of us need to remember that there are rules of academic research, irrespective of the topic. Is our question hypothesis driven? How solid is the hypothesis? How do we plan to prove it? What kind of analysis are we going to employ? How stringent are we going to be with our conclusions? Will our conclusions add something important to the existing body of evidence?

Sometimes the task is relatively easy: in my endocrine physiology research I can always construct an experiment, or two, or five. Sometimes it is going to be hard, requiring deep digging into historical data, old and forgotten books, linguistics, archives, museum searches , education in art appreciation etc, etc, Sometimes it is impossible: is there life after death?

But we always must first answer the last question: is it important? Are we going to add something useful to the existing body of knowledge?

Just some general musings on a rainy morning....
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