Katherine Olsson

SIS Olson Scholars

Research Portfolio Post #1: Research Interests

My topic area of interest is how the level of violence in Latin American Independence movements impacts the modern levels of stability and development in those countries. I originally became interested in this topic while in my History class in high school. Because I lived in Panama, some of our studies in history particularly focused on Latin American Independence movements. During that time, I became interested in the differences between the various movements, as well as the development of the various new countries after that time. Since then, I have continued to become increasingly interested in this. I have examined various articles about the different impacts of events that occurred throughout Latin American History. This ranges from articles such as Lost Decades: Lessons from Post-Independence Latin America for Today’s Africa[1] to The Treatment of Children in the “Dirty War”; Ideology, State Terrorism and the Abuse of Children in Argentina[2]. This has shown me the different impacts of various events, however, I haven’t found anything connecting it all the way from independence movements to the modern day; which is why that is the focus of my intended research.


Now that I am beginning my research, one of my puzzles that I have found is how to ensure that I can trust the data that I find. As I go back in history, accounts are increasingly likely to be more biased and less trustworthy, particularly in the case of quantitative data. For this reason, I intend to focus more on qualitative data for my research. However, this has raised another concern, how to ensure that the impacts I can see from independence movements are not being more impacted by other events. Or, due to the fact that I believe that later events will most likely impact the development and stability of these countries, how to determine the limit of where the impact of other events might overwhelm the impacts that I am originally tracking. This is a puzzle that I will have to answer in order to move forward in my research. For instance, I know that the Cold War is known to have a significant impact on the future development of Latin America.[3] The puzzle then becomes whether or not the events of the independence movements were significant enough in the further development of the governments to still be considered causational in the modern day levels of stability and development.


Another puzzle that I could examine later, beyond the bounds of this course, is the extent to which this applies to countries that are not in Latin America. I would be interested in determining if this is a more globally applicable phenomenon, especially since one of the articles I previously referenced was suggesting that lessons learned in Latin America could be applied to Africa as well.[4]

[1] Bates, Robert, John Coatsworth, and Jeffrey Williamson. “Lost Decades: Lessons from Post-Independence Latin America for Todays Africa.” National Bureau of Economic Research, October 2006. doi:10.3386/w12610.

[2] Suarez-Orozco, Marcelo M. “The Treatment of Children in the “Dirty War”: Ideology, State Terrorism and the Abuse of Children in Argentina.” Culture, Illness and Healing 11 (1987): 227-46. doi:10.1007/978-94-009-3393-4_12.

[3] Castañeda, Jorge G. “Latin America and the End of the Cold War.” World Policy Journal 7, no. 3 (1990): 469-92. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40209157.

[4] Bates, Robert, John Coatsworth, and Jeffrey Williamson. “Lost Decades: Lessons from Post-Independence Latin America for Todays Africa.” National Bureau of Economic Research, October 2006. doi:10.3386/w12610.


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    I too find Latin American history fascinating. I think it will be interesting to see if the types of governments implemented were an important factor. It can be tempting to dismiss quantitative data because of what you think are biases at the time, but that data should still hold some value. I think a big challenge in your research will be identifying culture shifts and making sure the data shows a trend and what caused that shift. As you stated, there is a worry that there are some events that you need to consider that have not come to light yet. I am really excited to hear how your research goes.

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    You are off to a good start here Katherine as you think about the potential directions that your research could take. I would encourage you to continue to investigate scholarship on your general topic area since identifying the debates among scholars (debates about what we understand / what we don’t understand) is one important part of identifying your own specific research puzzle. As you think about the puzzle itself I would suggest that you think more about explanatory (“why…?” “what explains…?”) questions. Ultimately you are working towards a good “why…?” or “what explains…?” question that points to something that you want to explain. Getting there, though, will also require you to think about the general problem/phenomenon of interest in all 3 of our methodological worlds, as we have been discussing in class. What is the general phenomenon or puzzle at stake here? How could you think of investigating it in a statistical or case study approach (as well as the ethnographic approach that you mention here)? Thinking about these things now will help you discover the full range/depth of the research puzzle!

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    Hi Katherine,
    I think you have some great background knowledge on your topic from your personal experiences and this will help you immensely. I would encourage you to think through how you are going to define the level of violence–whether its the number dead/injured or a more qualitative approach looking at the degrees of violence. I’m also curious to see how you will determine if the data you find is trustworthy, because I think it would behoove you to use both qualitative and quantitative data. I would suggest that you continue to dig into sources that may tell you more about the specific reasoning for the independence movements in the countries you’ll be studying to provide even more context in which you will be conducting your research. That being said, you’re off to a good start and I’m curious to see how your research develops over the year!

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    Interesting topic.

    I agree with you that there are a few issues with approaching this topic from a quantitative perspective and think a qualitative analysis might be the way to go. When thinking of your topic, I began thinking of the only independence movement that I am really familiar with (the U.S.). The U.S. developed in such a way that promoted an essentially “classically liberal” form of government. This was tied directly to the situation that the States found themselves before their independence: the lack of legislative representation/autonomy. The situation that these American colonies found themselves in, directly contributed to the state they wished to create once they emerged as an independent entity. The eventual form of government has surely had an effect on the relative stability of the U.S. Perhaps you could do a qualitative (or perhaps even quantitative!) analysis of the relationship between the Spanish crown and Colonial Possessions and see how the nature of the relationship shaped the state. Once you’ve made this analysis you could examine if certain structures in the country rooted within the independence movement (e.g. a decentralized/federated state) led to some sort of ineffectiveness that, down the line, resulted in modern levels of stability. I think if you employed some sort of historical approach while looking at the systems of government, you might be able to identify some interesting links between independence movements and the current state of Latin America.


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