RPP #9

I met with Professor Martin on Wednesday, December 5th. Our meeting lasted about half an hour. We spoke about how my research project had developed, specifically on the issue of case selection and historiography. I described the major criteria for the cases, including some of the controls I was introducing, and how this pointed toward examining two rising and ruling power dynamics from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, and Sweden and Denmark in the 16th century. Professor Martin then anticipated my next point of discussion and, accordingly, we spoke about the availability of sources and differences in international norms on these rather dated cases. Professor Martin suggested that I investigate the Fashoda incident of 1898 within the context of France-United Kingdom relations and colonial competition in the African continent. This case is particularly interesting since it seems to fit the Thucydidean dynamic yet was not analyzed by Graham Allison and the Belfer Center and includes less powerful third parties, the importance of which has been emphasized by scholars like Yang Yuan.[1] 

At this moment, I intend on doing a small-N most similar case comparison. While I am still whittling down contestants for the second case, I am heavily leaning toward the First Sino-Japanese war. The case, which is very similar to that of the Fashoda incident (save the DV), is ideal for several reasons: it is from the same time frame as the Fashoda incident, which controls for a difference in historical norms and loops in a case from East Asia. Since, ultimately, this whole question of Thucydides’ Trap is most relevant within the context of a rising China, examining a case from East Asia will allow me to see how cultural or regional norms from East Asia might be a contributing variable in the determination to go to war. Professor Martin and I also spoke about the use of primary and secondary sources when doing historical inquiry in IR research. He and I both agreed on the richness that primary sources provide. Primary sources will be in far greater abundance for the more recent cases, which pushes me even further toward picking them. Furthermore, it is more likely that primary sources from these cases will have been translated into English (although I can also read a fair bit of French and Chinese as well).

I am not planning on interacting with any human subjects or participants, so I will not need to file for approval with the IRB. I believe the only planning I really need to keep in mind for 306 and over the summer is to collect as many primary sources on these new cases as possible and, if needed, get decent translations of said sources. I might also investigate more of the Marxist literature on this subject since these cases are heavily ensconced in the imperialist tradition. While Marxism might be a bit dated, I might find some utility in their work on what Lenin described as “the highest stage of capitalism”.

[1] Yuan refers to this phenomenon as the “Churchill Trap”. See, Yang Yuan. “Escape both the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and the ‘Churchill Trap’: Finding a Third Type of Great Power Relations under the Bipolar System”, The Chinese Journal of International Politics 11, no. 2, (1 June 2018), 193–235.

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