Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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ariel 22nd September 2021 03:38 PM

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....

mariusgmioc 22nd September 2021 04:53 PM

Interesting topic and definitely food for thought!

Now what antique photos of people wearing traditional dress may tell us is open to interpretation and debate as we won't know the circumstances in which that photo was made.

I remember as a kid, on a village fair day in my grandparents village, I could get dressed up like a cowboy and get my photo taken. Does this mean that in the 60' the Romanian kids wore cowboy gear and were sporting guns?! Definitely not.
But at the same time at another village fair day I would wear the Romanian national dress... that was almost identical to the one my father wore as a kid... that was almost identical tho what my grandfather wore every Sunday when going to the church... or to the village pub.

And since many of the old photos with people wearing ethnic clothing are of genuine people wearing their festive clothes, and since ceremonial/festive clothes were almost invariably inspired by the historical dress of those people, we can get a pretty good approximation on how the historical dress of the respective people may have looked.

So, I believe in many if not most instances, antique photos do tell us a lot about how people got dressed and what weapons were assorted to their dress.

Additionally, an antique photo may also tell us about how a certain weapon was worn and even handled. Was it worn hanging from the belt or stuck in the sash?! Was it worn in the front, like the Omani khanjar or at the back like the Nepalese kukri?! Was it worn inclined to the right or to the left and was it gripped over or under the hand?!

Of course, this not scientific research, but my own assumption, based on my personal experience and common sense.

ariel 22nd September 2021 06:11 PM

You are absolutely correct: circumstances determine a lot. Although, despite wearing authentic clothes from a bygone era, 99.99% of your time you were not wearing them, you kinda pretended. Your grandfather was authentic, you were not.
My only major hesitation is about staged photo-opportunities, especially "studio" ones.
A Jim mentioned in another topic, virtually all soldiers of the US Civil War were photographed en face, with arms crossed in front of their chests, one holding a Colt, another a Bowie knife, and often at least one of them was used in several different portraits:-)
The same is true about the Caucasus: the " mountaineers" assuming insanely unnatural postures, and there was a lot of studio photos of female Russian visitors somewhere from Moscow, St. Peterburg, Kiev etc, to the local "mineral baths" , dressed in full Cossack regalia, with medals, shashka and kindjal.

Bob A 22nd September 2021 06:36 PM

Personally, I like pictures. Worth a thousand words, or so I was told.

Being able to make a mental tie-in between an antique weapon and the person or persons who might have utilised it adds a certain depth to its appreciation, expands one's visual horizon, and stimulates curiosity.

The worlds depicted in these old photos no longer exists, and visual imagery is a fine way of gaining insight into experiences no longer available. Studio photos are less valuable, but still contain an element of the times, and as such serve to cast some illumination on a bygone period.

Narrowly-focused research is obviously of value, but such methods by their nature exclude much valuable context.

ariel 22nd September 2021 06:51 PM

The value of portraits and photos is unquestionable, although some questions will always be present. But they are only a part of a research process. Having agreed on that point we can move further.
What are your opinions on the bulk of my "musings"?

Ren Ren 23rd September 2021 01:04 AM

Old photos are staged a little less than 100%. Probably, we can talk about reportage only with the invention of Kodak mobile cameras.
But old photos can tell a lot about what people wanted to show as important and noteworthy in their value scale. And also to convey ideas about fashion and beauty of those times. If a researcher adheres to a conservative tradition, then photography is for him a part of iconography. I think that everyone present here vividly remembers the lively discussions that turn into heated debates regarding certain ancient graphic images or ancient sculptures. I see no reason why old staged photos should be judged differently than graphics, painting and sculpture. Their objectivity is largely illusory.

A. G. Maisey 23rd September 2021 03:42 AM

Ariel, you have asked what we think of your musings.

My opinion must be a non-academic opinion, since I am not now, and never have been an academic, but my short opinion is that , yes, I think you're close enough to reality to be taken seriously.

However, if I consider a matter I go about it in a slightly different way. I try to frame the question I want answered, this might take a long time. When I have the question clear --- or maybe "clear enough" is better --- I then try to identify my objective.

All this takes a very long time, and really, it never stops, its always there niggling away in the back of my mind, and that objective can always be amended as enquiry proceeds.

When I have what I think might be a satisfactory objective I then start to do things that might get to a point where I start to produce what I like to think of as "good ideas". To get to the "good idea" point can take a very long time, it is mostly thinking and with fairly random inputs. In one case it took me around 20 or so years of this before these "good ideas" more or less solidified into something that I thought I might be able to make into a hypothesis.

For me, this is the point where I start to look at supportable evidence that can contribute to the hypothesis. I'm not talking testing and supporting argument here, I'm talking evidence in one form or another that can contribute to, let us say, a story line.

I doubt that I've ever taken things further than that. For me, the hypothesis is sufficient. Others can, if they wish, prove or disprove the hypothesis. I tend to be a little bit dubious about theories, especially if those theories begin to be accepted as truth. You can construct a theory, and by clever argument, you can get a lot of people to accept that theory, but sooner or later the Matchlup/Arbesman effect kicks in, you look back and you find you spent a whole lot time on something that was either not relevant, or straight out wrong.

There are a lot of ways to look at that wasted time, and most of these ways present a much more pleasant outcome than 5 minutes of the half-life of fame.

In my non-academic opinion, I feel that the most important, and also the most difficult thing is to ask a relevant question.

Answers can be pretty easy to construct, relevant questions can be exceedingly difficult to construct.

Jim McDougall 23rd September 2021 04:46 AM

Interesting approach to the philosophical perspectives in research.
I think questions are inherent to research, investigation, and study. I am by far no academic, but have always been curious, so questions are always there.

If I may use the 'khanjarli' case, which apparently has prompted this editorial thread, for an example.

The question was simple, asking for help finding an individual actually wearing a khanjarli dagger, distinctive for its ivory lunette pommel, and having a recurved blade common to several Indian dagger forms.

It became readily apparent that the request for this subject matter may have to do with (as often the case) a semantic issue with terms applied to various weapon forms. This seems to have been illustrated in the reference to these type daggers in Egerton, with contradictory classification captions also listed.

Further research in Elgood revealed this was indeed a case of a variation of another dagger form, chilanum, but with the lunette pommel.

It seems that in most cases, writers covering a certain topic like to add illustrations to better convey descriptions and provide imagery that the reader can connect to the text.

The photographic image of a weapon being worn by an individual, just as art work depicting same, is not always 'proof' but does provide some context.
The work of AVB Norman, on rapier and smallsword hilts, is based largely on forms of hilts as found in portraits mostly, relies on the fact that most portraits are painted in a time frame of the individuals life. In these cases, persons posing typically were particular about their personal weapons being used, not someone elses.

In other types of art, Rembrandt for example, Biblical scenes were embellished by weaponry, often exotic, known in the Dutch context of the time these were painted. The information useful is more for the study of the foreign weapons of the time of the painting than the Biblical context.

A great book titled "After the Fact" is about historical detection, and some great examples of what a painting of an American Indian warrior by George Catlin can tell the investigator about the figure posing, and the items they are wearing etc. There are surprising elements revealed, sometimes an influence of another work, and adjustments of embellished ornaments.

I guess we could go on forever with examples and questions, reasons, and all these things related to research, but it comes down to getting evidence, proper evaluation of it, and presenting it accordingly. The idea is to be sure to apprise the reader of what is being shown, and qualify any aspects that might be in question. Do not hesitate to be transparent and show other sides to the material being shown. Let the reader decide which is more viable.

Musings are personal, and not of much use to most others, as everyone has their own, regarded as thoughts and ideas. But nothing wrong with expressing ideas. These are what is good about discussion, objective and unbiased, flowing constructively.

Bob A 23rd September 2021 08:06 AM

The question of the value and nature of research, as applied to representative depictions of weapons for example, is more complex than it might appear.

Research, embodying observation leading to formulating a question as a hypothesis, and subsequently devising a method of testing the hypothesis, is a focused and necessarily narrow approach as a tool for expanding knowledge. A body of prior knowledge is implicit in its usage, distilled down from a much broader palette of information and observation: hence "re-search" is derived from "search". Medical research is science; the practice of medicine is aptly called an art.

One can speak of historical research, but this is dependent on possibly fallible and certainly biased information; it lacks the rigor of hard science, and deals with issues and information that is more vague and suspect as one goes further into the past. The farther we depart form that which can be measured and quantified, the farther we are separated from what might be described as "truth" or perhaps "reality."

Mathematics exists as pure abstraction, which nevertheless can map congruencies or corepondences in what we see as "reality," and has in fact been the precursor of the real, as mathematical abstractions have led physical science into the discovery of the hidden realities of the physical world. So-called "pure" mathematics has been found useful as a descriptor of phenomena completely unsuspected or unknown to the mathematician engaged in symbol manipulation for its own sake.

It seems therefore that the scientific method is an exquisite tool for seeking answers to problems, or questions, if one prefers, but a broad and global scope encompassing seemingly unrelated phenomena and discovering implicit patterns, which might ultimately provide scope for research, might better be viewed as "art."

Arts and sciences inform and cross-pollinate each other, and both would appear necessary to the process of discovery; essentially search and research are complementary tools in this endeavor.

Or so my musings would lead me to opine, when considering the musings of others on the topic.

Ren Ren 23rd September 2021 09:30 AM


Originally Posted by Bob A (Post 266351)
It seems therefore that the scientific method is an exquisite tool for seeking answers to problems, or questions, if one prefers, but a broad and global scope encompassing seemingly unrelated phenomena and discovering implicit patterns, which might ultimately provide scope for research, might better be viewed as "art."

I completely agree!

A. G. Maisey 23rd September 2021 10:41 AM

That's a nice statement in support of the scientific method Bob, and I doubt that anybody would want to debate what you have put forward, but I will offer this:-

no hypothesis can be put forward without a question that needs an answer

the question does not come from research, it comes from experience and rational thought

once the hypothesis has been stated, that is when the research begins, and that research might result in a theory

Ian 23rd September 2021 03:25 PM

Just a few disconnected thoughts to throw into the pot.

What Ariel and Bob have so succinctly described is the Hypothetico-Deductive (H-D) model of research that was proposed in the 19th C and developed by Carl Popper and others. It stands in opposition to what had gone before, which was essentially an Inductive method. The latter basically consisted of finding as much data as possible about something and then drawing conclusions from those observations. What distinguished the H-D model from the inductive model is the testing of a specific prior hypothesis with the collection of data to test a particular question.

If the data we collect to test the hypothesis (i.e., the question being asked) does not refute it, then the hypothesis stands until such time someone comes along with a better set of data that negate it. Many times investigators are wedded to a certain hypothesis and are reluctant to let it go, even when the data suggest they should. After all, many reputations are built on proposing new hypotheses and defending them against all comers. The famous differences between Einstein and Nils Bohr concerning quantum mechanics, and the uncertain behavior of key components of matter, illustrate how even a great scientist and thinker like Einstein can be wrong and get stuck in old ideas.

Much of what we discuss on the Forums can be classed as inductive reasoning. We show a lot of pictures, draw analogies between different items, and try to construct a story to fit the observations. Many of our discussions raise more questions than they answer. Such questions could be considered the genesis of hypotheses, but we lack the ability to test those ideas in a meaningful manner. Designing a set of actions (experiments) to test an hypothesis effectively can be difficult and in some cases impossible. Bob has already alluded to the difficulties of historical research.

Social scientists (as distinct from physical or biomedical scientists) encounter these problems frequently in their research. Carefully controlled studies with well defined groups are difficult when dealing with ordinary human beings going about their lives. Anthropologists, ethnologists, sociologists, behavioral scientists, etc. have to be creative in designing studies to test their hypotheses. In many ways, their job is harder than physical and biomedical researchers.

Studying the history and use of weapons seems more akin to social sciences than the physical or biomedical sciences, especially when we consider the culture of the populations using these weapons. One of the key elements of understanding the use and place of weapons within a culture necessarily draws on an understanding of ethnography and sociology within the native population. People within those groups rightly get upset with westerners who try to draw conclusions without carefully involving the groups under study. Techniques for obtaining information from such groups does not necessarily involve a structured formal questionnaire, but rather loosely structured interviews with key informants and other members of the community. All communications need to be conducted in a culturally appropriate manner, and so on.

Such techniques are often derided by "hard scientists" as being empirical and poorly controlled, with a high likelihood of bias. There may be some truth to that. However, the types of rigor and control that are used by many physical and biomedical scientists are often not feasible for the social scientist—they can only use the tools they have.

What does this have to do with the question at hand? Mahratt proposed in another thread that one could use old pictures, drawings, and other art works to define who wore, and presumably used, the khanjarli. Jim provided some clues based on historical records for where to look, and we would expect to see some pictorial evidence to support his research. What we have is Jim creating an hypothesis that can be tested by searching for photographic or artistic evidence in support of that.

That's how the H-D method works.

ariel 23rd September 2021 04:01 PM

Completely agree.
There are areas where research is straightforward and fully dependable on experimentally- provable data : " let's remove X and see what happens"
Study of weapons cannot employ experiments: it is strictly observational. It is much more tentative and more difficult to conduct.

But the principles of the two are by and large the same: noticing or suspecting something unusual or different, asking is it interesting and/or important, if not,- forgetting it, if yes - asking a question/hypothesis (why? where? when?), collecting material and published information, discussing the results without bias and providing an answer.

Without absorbing and rigorously employing general principles of research or, worse of, without dedicated training in these basic principles, book markets are getting flooded by amateurish publications that are full of errors, i.e. at the best colorful coffee table volumes, and at the worst - sources of misleading information for generations.
The " half-life of information" is measured in years. It is getting shorter, but still long enough to impress tyros and influence even professionals. Regretfully, in all our different areas of interest ( and, occasionally, competence, Alan Maisey and Albert van Zonneveld being an example in Indonesian, a strong group in Filipino, Elgood in Indian, Rivkin in Caucasian etc.), we all know such publications.

Bob A 23rd September 2021 06:47 PM


Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey (Post 266358)
That's a nice statement in support of the scientific method Bob, and I doubt that anybody would want to debate what you have put forward, but I will offer this:-

no hypothesis can be put forward without a question that needs an answer

the question does not come from research, it comes from experience and rational thought

once the hypothesis has been stated, that is when the research begins, and that research might result in a theory

I absolutely agree, Alan.

I might not have made myself entirely clear, but I attempted to indicate that the more global or oceanic examination, which would correspond to Ian's well-stated concept of induction, is experiential in nature.

Correspondences can be induced, but such induction depends on a broad range of experience ranging over as wide a field of observation as the ability of the observer will allow. This "ability" includes both the capacity of the observer, and the availability and scope of that which is observed.

I think we're talking about the same thing, expressed through different minds and verbal filters.

Jim McDougall 23rd September 2021 07:22 PM

Ian, I want to thank you for this wonderfully explained synopsis of these seemingly complex research systems, which even I, as a lay person, can understand. As a non-academic, that is without training in advanced educational context, I have always been fascinated by research, mostly out of inate curiosity, so I do not know the formal protocols.

However what I consider my 'method' is that of ratiocination, and as I have mentioned, the use of 'historical detection' as that is the primary field in which I study. I agree that the study of weapons is certainly more aligned with social sciences, that is of course anthropology, ethnography and of course history.

In the study of arms, most published references focus on typology, categorization and classification, along with varying degree of historical context. In virtually all references I have known, the authors note in introductions that not only do they expect corrections and rebuttal, but encourage it, hoping for furthering the core of knowledge.

There are however other aspects which are often, if not typically, avoided, in these references. These are the areas which are subjective, such as with metaphysics, superstition, symbolism and such features which occur in elements of weaponry. As these areas are nearly always subjective, that is, cannot be proven empirically. These therefore, are not academically sound and avoided in these arms references, at least usually. In some cases there are nominal allusions to these areas, but certain authors have, rather boldly, delved into such topics.

As I have suggested, such topics can be reasonably addressed, in my opinion even academically, as long as substantial transparency is observed, and adamant or conclusive statements are avoided.

I like the descriptions of these academic processes and systems of research defined in technical terms, as it sort of puts structure into the methods many or even most of us may use in some manner.

kronckew 23rd September 2021 08:25 PM

Y'all touched on photos being 'staged'. Photographers were not above moving bodies and equipment around to suit the tale they wanted to tell their viewers. Portrait Photographers were known to move or add weapons from their own stock of weapons. Person wears a knife behind his back? move it to the front for the photo. Didn't bring your sword? Here' use mine. That baldric doesn't have the right look? here, let me adjust it for you so we can see it better. Here, put this turnban on, makes you look exotic. rembrant had a lrge sharp pointy thing collection, and added bits from it to his portrait where he though they would look good, not where the portrayed actually had them, or even not caring if they didn't own or use one like that.

Photos show you what the photographers wanted you to see. They were not anthropological records, but for entertaining the readers back home, and the more pizazz and flamboyancy, the easier it was to make money from them.Useful, but of varying degrees of accuracy. As in all things, Caveat Emptor.

A. G. Maisey 24th September 2021 02:52 AM

Ariel opened his "musings" comments with a statement:-

"All scientific investigations are hypothesis driven."

The title of this thread that we are contributing to is:-

"Academic research: musings"

From these two ideas I have assumed that Ariel was thinking in a scientific and/or academic way when he wrote his comments.

Ariel's opening comments focused rather strongly on photographic data and I believe the idea or ideas behind his comments were directed at a couple of questions, that I understand to be:-

a) just how reliable are photographs of people and things from foreign places and past times in demonstrating anything of value to an understanding of those people and things that existed in those foreign places and past times?

b) even if some reliability of the photographic information can be demonstrated, is that information important?

Ariel, if my understanding of that which you have written is incorrect I would appreciate your correction. It is important to understand how a message is to be understood before a relevant response can be written.

But whether or not I do clearly understand your message, I feel inclined to write a response in any case.

Ariel's comment that "All scientific investigations are hypothesis driven" is demonstrably true.

But before the hypothesis can exist there must be a question, the hypothesis itself is not a question, although it may generate questions, a hypothesis is an assumption, or a proposition, or an educated guess that forms the basis for investigation by way of experiment, or observation, or other means with the objective to determine the truth or untruth of the assumption proposed by the hypothesis.

It is this phase of testing and investigation that is driven by the hypothesis, and this testing and investigation is that which may be termed "academic research". Prior to the construction of the hypothesis, no actual "research", as the word is understood in a scientific/academic context, was performed.

Ariel has said just this in his statement quoted above.

The addition of the adjective "academic" imparts a defined meaning to the word "research". Academic research does not necessarily imply that this "academic" research is in fact "scientific" research. Academic research implies the use of a system to investigate a defined matter with the objective of dealing with that matter, if the system used to perform the investigation is the Scientific Method, then that academic research also becomes Scientific Research.

The testing of a hypothesis might result in that hypothesis being able to be supported by things that are known, or assumed, to be fact. If this should occur, then the hypothesis has generated a principle that explains something, and that principle then can be regarded as a theory. A theory must be able to be defended, a hypothesis does not need to be defended, its reason for being is that the idea it encapsulates is something that can be questioned, investigated, and tested.

In my understanding, Ariel has attempted to gently demonstrate that all "research" is not "scientific/academic research", and in any case the results that might be produced even from "scientific/academic research" are not necessarily important.

In other words, all "research" is not equal, nor for that matter is it sufficiently important to be necessary.

However, this Forum does not present itself as an academic nor as a scientific Forum. My own understanding of the character of this Forum is that it is a place for discussion. That discussion might be based upon "research" as research is understood in general or colloquial terms. The discussion that ensues from this non-scientific research could perhaps generate a question that leads to the construction of a hypothesis, which in turn might eventually produce a principle and that principle could well become a theory.

As I have previously stated, I am not an academic, nor am I a scientist. My own profession is principally concerned with analysis and the identification of risk. In exercise of this capacity I have been employed by academics, scientists, and others to identify risk and flaws in work that they have done, work that they are now doing, and work which they wish to undertake in the future. Part of the system upon which practice of my profession is based is the gathering of information, this is the initial phase of any investigation or analysis. If I consider this Forum and the discussions that take place here, I come to the opinion that it is firmly fixed into the information gathering phase of any further investigation into the topics discussed. Those discussions can sometimes become a foundation stone in an investigation.

As a part of information gathering, I would suggest that the comments posted to discussions in this Forum do not need to be either scientific or academic in nature.

As to how important something might be, well, to determine that we probably need to place the concept of "importance" into its related context:- things that are important to a person, or to a field of knowledge, could well be totally unimportant to another person, or field of knowledge.

It is absolutely certain that academic research and the related scientific method of investigation have a place in the world at large, but I wonder how much of a place either might have in a Forum that to me, appears to be dedicated to ongoing, open discussion.

fernando 24th September 2021 01:32 PM


Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey (Post 266375)
...However, this Forum does not present itself as an academic nor as a scientific Forum. My own understanding of the character of this Forum is that it is a place for discussion. That discussion might be based upon "research" as research is understood in general or colloquial terms...
... As a part of information gathering, I would suggest that the comments posted to discussions in this Forum do not need to be either scientific or academic in nature...
... As to how important something might be, well, to determine that we probably need to place the concept of "importance" into its related context:- things that are important to a person, or to a field of knowledge, could well be totally unimportant to another person, or field of knowledge...
... It is absolutely certain that academic research and the related scientific method of investigation have a place in the world at large, but I wonder how much of a place either might have in a Forum that to me, appears to be dedicated to ongoing, open discussion...

What a clear and truthful perspective; obviously subscribable.

ariel 24th September 2021 08:40 PM

Alan and Fernando,
Perhaps I did not myself clear enough.
I presented general “ academic “ rules of scientific research. And by “academic”
I did not mean that the research should be conducted within the ivory towers or by holders of PhD degrees.
Anybody could attempt to conduct research work. This can only be encouraged. But to be not only printable but also valid and respectable, the work should be conducted according to the general rules.

Thus, there are different levels of involvement in “research”. On the internet Fora, including the present one, most of communications are requests for help to demonstration of rare and potentially revealing examples and series of related examples demonstrating some similarities or time changes. The latter is as close to the “ hardcore” research as possible and should do its best to follow the “rules” ( sometimes it may be difficult to impossible, and the rest of participants should understand and accept it),

The next level is a “research article”. This is published in a journal or proceeding of a conference. Here adherence to the “ rules” is mandatory and external peer review is routine. Still, this may be a bit freewheeling” and can restrict its conclusions to “ offering a hypothesis” and opening it to critique and retesting.

The ultimate level is a full book. This is a summary of all we know for now about a particular field. It still can be offering hypotheses, but those can be presented in a non- biased and complete set of pros-and -cons. It requires as close adherence to the “rules” as possible, assumes critical analysis of the available data, use of statistics ( if possible) and of course absolute adherence to truthful information, without omissions of contradictory opinions and facts.
Description of examples should be complete, with references to other similar objects, analysis of inscriptions and decorations to tie them to other similar properly dated and attributed examples.

This is as concise as possible and we can expand our conditions . Can a book contain errors? Regretfully, no book will be free of them: the half-life of facts is a reality. But it should be as ideal as possible on the day it goes to print.

I know of several books from different authors and countries that qualify as “The Book” only by the number of pages and a hard cover. Some partially compensate by showing good images ( the so-called “ coffee-table” volumes) , many load as many identical examples without any analysis, believing that quantity is going to pad up quality. Some books are results of personal vanity of the author, intended of showing his/her collection before putting it for sale. By the same token, I know several catalogues of personal collections that unquestionably qualify as real academic works ( Moser, Buttin, Nordlunde, Hales, Pinchot’s catalogue of Wagner’s collection et cet.). Some are the worst : pure personal vanity ( “ I am not just a reader, I am a writer”) is the only driving force ( hint: jambiyas, but not by Gracie).

So, overall, there is a full spectrum of at least some contributions to real research: from asking a question the answer to which clarifies the issue and freewheeling exchange of opinions to full books addressing a wide swath of issues ( Rivkin and Isaac’s ” The study of the Eastern sword») as well as focussed on a particular variety ( Khorasani’s “Arms and Armor from Iran”»).

All are valuable to different degrees, but each next level requires stricter and stricter adherence to the appropriate set of the “Rules”.

Disclaimer: all names and titles are just the first ones to jump into mind. One can ask me about my particular opinion on other books, but I shall defer to the unified opinion of the Moderators.
No examples of European or Far( ther) Eastern topics were mentioned simply because I know nothing about them.

A. G. Maisey 25th September 2021 01:17 AM

Thank you for your further comments Ariel.

In my post #17 I asked this:-

"Ariel, if my understanding of that which you have written is incorrect I would appreciate your correction. It is important to understand how a message is to be understood before a relevant response can be written."

Since you have not addressed the matter of my understanding, I can only assume that you are in agreement with my understanding of your post #1.

In your post #19 you have expanded upon your ideas, but I do find that this new direction you have chosen does confuse me a little. I am now uncertain of exactly what type of research you are talking about, in your first post, you were quite specific in that your comments were focused on two separate, but related systems:-

a) academic research
b) scientific investigation

Now you have introduced the concept of "generality", and you mention "rules" several times. But then you move away from the two systems with which you opened discussion and you have diverged into another major system, the system of publishing the results of research. Academic Research need not be presented in any way, but the results of Scientific Research as a component part of the Scientific Method should be presented in one way or another.

I took your "musings" to be a fairly serious commentary on the research that often comes under discussion in this Forum, you wrote of the "rules of academic research", you asked if "our question is hypothesis driven", you queried the quality of the conclusions that had been reached. You drew parallels with your own professional work.

All of this is good, solid stuff. I can relate very easily to this, it is precisely the same sort of thinking that applies in my own profession, and exactly what governs the type work that I have done for most of my life. This work is audit, specifically operational audit, and using a systems based approach.

Before going into private consultancy I worked for a state instrumentality that was the owner/operator of a testing laboratory that was supposedly the largest and most highly regarded in the Southern Hemisphere, it might have been, it might not have been, I never researched the question. However, I was responsible for the audit of that testing laboratory, and from that involvement I also did private reviews of papers & articles produced by some of the people who worked there, written work produced by cadets who were working towards their first degree through to senior people who were engaged in post graduate studies.

So, coming from this background I read your initial post, and my impression was that you would have liked to see a slightly more disciplined approach to the research that is behind a lot of the discussion in this forum. My immediate thought was that yes, I can relate to that, let's not waste time on empty pipe dreams, let's focus a bit and produce some serious ideas.

But then I paused, and I considered the nature of this forum, and I concluded my post #17 by leaving the question open:- do we go the way of systematic research, or do we just wander around discussing generalities? Something to be said for both approaches, but I feel that in this forum perhaps a softer, more social approach might be the way to go. Polite discussion between gentlemen --- and ladies too, if we have any present, rather than incisive reasoning backed by dedicated systematic research.

Now Ariel, it seems to me that you moved somewhat from favouring the academic, scientific, hypothesis driven approach, and have moved towards a more "general" approach to research? Am I correct ?

In any case, we are still talking about "rules":- the "general academic rules of scientific research". But Ariel, you have not revealed those "rules " to us.

Please forgive me, I do not believe we are discussing the value or quality of any published works, publication of any research is a separate system to the research itself. The system of research might support the record of that research, but the publication of the record is a separate system. So, excluding all references to publishing of the results of research, and looking at only the concept of research itself, I believe that there are several terms that we need to clearly understand before this discussion can proceed.

The key words & ideas in your comments Ariel, appear to be:-

a) research, this word is from the word "search" to look for something, we all carry out research constantly, we want to buy a new car, so we research brands, models, prices; we want to buy groceries, so we research various stores for range and prices. This is general research, just looking for the best deal, or the most suitable solution.

b) academic, when we couple "research" with "academic" we become a little more specific, by definition, "Academic Research" is no longer just "research" it is a particular kind of research, and it is governed by rules, in broad terms the applicable rules are that Academic Research must employ a systematic approach and have an objective.

c) scientific, when we couple "research" with "scientific" we become even more specific, "Scientific Research" is a sub-system of the "Scientific Method". I have encountered a number of definitions of the component sub-systems of the system known as "the Scientific Method", the progression of this method of investigation looks something like this:-

question> research> hypothesis> test> observation> analysis> conclusion> presentation of findings

now, strangely enough this is a precise parallel with the methodology of Systems Based Audit, something that I have now been using for around forty years.
So, Scientific Research shares its nature with Academic Research, both are based upon a systematic approach, both have an objective, but Scientific Research is a part of the Scientific Method, which has as its ultimate objective the presentation of findings from that research, the findings from Academic Research might never be presented in any form.

d) rules, that is, the rules which govern both Academic Research and Scientific Research, well, the actual rules are the same:- the research must be carried out in a systematic way and that research must have an objective. It is a given that according to the field in which the research is being done, the elements of the system used and of the objective will vary.

The take-away from this is that once we introduce the concepts of "academic" and "scientific" the idea of "general" can no longer apply:- general research is what we all do constantly, Academic Research and Scientific Research both a have the requisites of system and objective.

We can research things in more or less general way, or we can research things in a structured, systematic way.

So Ariel, my question now is this:- as a standard for this forum, do you favour the more or less general form of research that is a pretty comfortable foundation for social discussion, or do you favour the hard edged systematic approach that can generate learned discussion and possible conflict?

Personally, I'd rather go with the soft approach.

ariel 25th September 2021 09:07 PM

Sorry if i did not respond t your earlier quesion. I kind of missed it within you message.
Your current one is clearly well demarcated and stated. So, here is my my response:

Our posts on this Forum are by and large a mix of information search and social interactions . As such, they are practically immune to any critique, and definitely to any harsh one. Reasoned disagreements are part and parcel of any discussion of any object or opinion ( “You are mistaken, in country A it is called not B but C. And here is the reference”), but sarcastic remarks, personal insults and such are unacceptable and the moderators must be harsh with the offender.

This is my view of a soft approach: friendly, respectable, sincere ( without being denigrating) and forgiving. In short, kind of family chat at the New Year table ot just Sunday dinner. By and large we practice it already, so it is not a great burden to continue.

Things change if one of the Forumites posts an article -like treatise on the Forum, with the reason for doing it, data, discussion with references. This is a different ball of wax and should be treated as a scientific ( or “academic”, if you prefer) contribution. The contributor decided to produce a serious piece of work and the greatest compliment from other Forumites is to take it seriously. Sometimes, the post contributed to the Forum is an early draft of a journal paper the contributor reveals to his friends (sic!). Their frank comments may be immensely helpful. I know it very well: I often send my own “ main job”:-) papers to friends for their perusal and very (!) frank comments. Saves me a lot of grief with the subsequent journal referees. My ego may be bruised, but my paper improves markedly. I also get similar requests from friends and do my best to return the favor.

This is a harsher, but still friendly approach.

The last one deals with articles and/or books submitted for publication elsewhere and peer review or published without the “ pre-screening” whether by Forumites or external colleagues. Here , if we want to be truthful and the topic is important to us we might go full forward and provide as harsh critique as the contribution deserves ( in our opinion, at least).
Again, no insults are allowed, but sarcasm is permitted when it is appropriate.
This is the “ harsh approach”. It should be factual, but pitiless.

This is the usual policy of all professional journals I know and definitely of the two I am editing now or edited in the past.

This is to prevent false or bad information to pollute the pool or to alert colleagues that a particular piece of information had just hit the road and is poisonous.

The entire medical field is functioning now on the principle of “ evidence-based medicine” . This is the beginning of the end of “ personal opinions”, poorly-executed studies, falsified results etc. I personally know people whose careers went down the drain because they published 2 pictures of the same histological slide turned 90 degrees away from each other and labeled as showing different phenomena.

Every submitted paper undergoes computer analysis to uncover plagiarism.

Every case of “ double publication” results in published retractions, indefinite ban by both involved journals as well as by a slew of others at the very least by the same publishers.

I see nothing wrong in implementing the same harsh policies in other fields.

Hope it answers your question. There is no “ all or nothing” cookbook, it all depends on the circumstances.

A. G. Maisey 25th September 2021 11:53 PM

Thank you for your response Ariel.

I believe that you & I are on the same page in respect of the standards for discussion on this forum. I can find nothing with which to disagree in your response. Very nicely stated.

However, I do feel that by moving into the area of publication you have moved away from the core function of this Forum. I do agree that prior to the publication of just about any serious work, and most especially serious work that is also original work, that work must undergo review at more than one level.

The reviewers should not mince words and should not hold back on anything. But I do not see this Forum as the place for such review. I believe that the people to carry out pre-publication review must be carefully chosen by the writer. Those people should be chosen upon the basis of their relevant knowledge & experience in one or more aspects that apply to the work to be published.

I do not see an online forum, especially a forum that is open for perusal by the entire world, as a place for such review.

You began this thread with some comments on "research", I think it was I who then diverged into one of the products of research, and addressed the desired or preferred nature of discussion, and you have answered my question well.

However, we are still left with a comment from your opening post, and for me, the questions raised by this comment are at the heart of this current discussion:-

"--- 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? "

Can we understand your remarks here to apply to only the more serious contributions to our forum discussions, or should we use a structured, systematic approach to all of the seeking after information that we might undertake?

I feel that it might not be a real bad idea to leave the terms "academic" and "scientific" behind. Even amongst the academics & scientists who populate the communities of academia & science it would seem that there is not always a uniform understanding of the meaning of these terms, and amongst lay people, I would suggest that there is even less understanding.

So my question now is this:-

in your opinion, in this Forum, is it acceptable for random, unstructured ideas, observations & comments to form a basis for discussion, or should we try to always use a systematic, structured approach to enquiry, prior to presenting our ideas, observations & comments?

Can we understand that your comment that I have quoted above is to be applied to all data included in our posts, or should these concepts of system & structure only apply to those instances where a contributor to this Forum has posted information based upon what he or she considers to be serious research?

Edster 26th September 2021 12:49 AM

I'm a perennial lurker on this Forum and read most all the posts. Yogi Berra once said "You can observe a lot just by watching". This is what I have observed.

In my view we're are mostly asking Cultural Heritage Research questions related to metal objects (weapons): What is it? How, Where, When and sometimes Why was it made. As previously stated we usually rely of soft methods based on personal observations and experience to offer reasoned opinions.

How do we really tell the difference between historical native blades and European or Asian imports? Where did native iron or copper actually come from? Composition of twist core, laminated or wootz blades? Hardness results from native vs factory heat treating? (Are testing files good enough?) Is that coin silver or from sterling? (Chemical test is available for silver.)

Unfortunately, we lack hard data developed via scientific investigation. That's not really our fault because we don't have access to expensive scientific equipment usually only available to industrial facilities, museums and research universities. Non-destructive tests are available of only we had access to them. Fortunately, portable X-Ray Fluorescence testers and even Neutron Imaging techniques are becoming available to test for metal alloy compositions.

How do we gain access to these equipment so a database can be developed? I tried to get a material science prof. to help analyse my Kaskara blades. He didn't respond. Likely, I didn't sell the idea properly. Maybe we can develop cultural heritage research projects and pitch them to nearby universities or museums; make it interesting and publishable to them. Maybe do a GoFundMe account to do real analysis?

Anyway, I like to see we forum members work toward more reproducible data to inform our collective judgements.

Best regards,

Jim McDougall 26th September 2021 12:59 AM

All this from a simple query asking for images of an Indian warrior wearing a khanjharli dagger, and an accompanying photo with a Sikh said to be with one.

Personally, while i do not have formal education training in procedures and methodology in systemic research...I just enjoy study, and learning from my own style of research. With this it is quite comfortable and rewarding and I enjoy the discussions being the same.........though my writing is typically a bit heavy and detailed. Most of that is simply because it is my way of compiling often notable time in research.

I dont think a private venue/forum needs to follow the strict regimens of academia to be useful and advance our collective knowledge on weapons in forms and history. We all have different perspectives in our interests in arms & armor.

While I admire the disciplines and achievements involved in academic pursuits and the structured scholarship, and all of those here who have accomplished notable credentials and experience.......I also enjoy just 'talking weapon study and history'.

In answering the question in the original thread, there were no protocols or structured methods followed...simple 'cerca trova' :).
In the interpretation of this as I have understood....'seek and ye shall find'.

Edster 26th September 2021 03:19 AM

Thanks Jim, excellent counterpoint. I, too, enjoy the entertainment quality of good reasoned debate. However, as an example, I would also like to know the objective differences between a German made 19th C. munitions grade trade blade and those made in Kassala in the early & mid 20th C. Without makers marks most look the same to me.

Best regards,

Jim McDougall 26th September 2021 03:42 AM


Originally Posted by Edster (Post 266439)
Thanks Jim, excellent counterpoint. I, too, enjoy the entertainment quality of good reasoned debate. However, as an example, I would also like to know the objective differences between a German made 19th C. munitions grade trade blade and those made in Kassala in the early & mid 20th C. Without makers marks most look the same to me.

Best regards,

Thanks Ed,
Actually when I began writing on these forums over 20 years ago, Mostly I just wanted to learn from other guys involved in studying the same weapons I was interested in. I have never cared especially for debate, but in sharing information and observations with examples and evidence.

I always appreciate when an example or observation is shared and when contrary views are shown, with explanations and details. Rather than debate these are discussions evaluating information at hand and constructively compiling material to advance the collective knowledge of all reading.

Great example on those Sudanese blades, I am always baffled at trying to evaluate them without markings as well. We often presume a blade must be European , but these guys in Kassala were pretty good.

ariel 26th September 2021 05:58 AM

But of course! I thought I was pretty clear on it. 95% of all posts have nothing to do with real research: they are just a way to get straightforward information, to learn.
Re-search is " to seek anew", to start with uncertainty or doubt about current state of affairs in a particular area and subject the reality to additional tests ( experimental or purely mental, no difference) to either modify or confirm the existing state of knowledge.

Fora by and large are just social interactions to learn something known to others. How often do we see here really structured "research" topic, systematizing a particular field in a novel way? Once a year? The rest of the time we just learn from each other, and this is wonderful! Nothing wrong with it: that what all students do from the first grade to let's say masters degree. Only then they start addressing novel problems and re-searching. But those early years prepare at least some of them for a PhD level of thinking. I am pretty good in my field, but in my wildest dreams I cannot compare myself to specially educated David Alexander, Don LaRocca and Robert Elgood and even to such a "non-university" person as Robert Hales, who had learned so much by the sheer volume of personal experience combined with first class brain that he can teach us ( me, at least) more than a bunch of professors.

To recap: yes, "..... in this Forum, is it acceptable for random, unstructured ideas, observations & comments to form a basis for discussion". It prepares us to go one step further, to ask a really unexpected question, to develop a hypothesis.

A. G. Maisey 26th September 2021 09:56 AM

Thank you Ariel,

I actually asked a couple of questions, I'm guessing you have answered "of course" to both of these questions. So I assume you mean that the relaxed approach is fine where no actual research has been done, but where research has been done, this research should have been done in a systematic manner? Is my understanding of your response correct?

Ariel, I do not want to introduce any new unrelated discussion to this thread, but I was under the impression that we were talking about research, not re-search.

The word "research" comes from Old French, and the "re" in this case does not mean "again" it indicates the use of a great degree of force, the root is probably "cercher". This is as I remember, I'm not good on French, and I only recall little interesting bits & pieces here and there. I guess "cercher", or maybe "cerchier" might have come from the Latin --- "re" was originally used with words from the Latin. But in any case, when the intensifier "re" is added to "cercher" we have a word that means to seek for something with extreme dedication, & thus "research". I'm running on 60 odd year old memories here, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.

Is "re-search" in fact an English word, or English usage? I don't think I've ever come across it.

Anyway, no matter about words, I think that in broad terms you & I have a similar take on the nature of this Forum.

ariel 26th September 2021 01:36 PM

Glad we finally came to full understanding.
My French sucks. But English, in its meticulously- precise way, gives “ re” an interesting twist. Linguistically it is likely incorrect, but it raises the meaning couple of notches up.
This was not my invention: I have seen it in several classy publications and liked it immensely.

Thanks for your comments and questions.They were very useful for clarifying what I wanted to say. Your critique made my position more understandable. Socratic method still rules! :-)

A. G. Maisey 26th September 2021 02:30 PM

I think English would be a swine of a language to learn.I'm glad I was born as a native speaker.

But it is I think a very marvelous language, a wonderful tool for communication. I am familiar with a few languages, none of the other languages I have met seem to permit the same universal precision as does English.

As to the invention of words, well it was good enough for Bill Shakespeare. Perhaps some of our personally invented words help us to remember or realise things that we otherwise would not.

But "re" is not uniquely English, it comes from early Latin and originally it meant "back" or "backwards", it now occurs in languages other than English, and in English it has a broad range of meanings. In English its attachment seems to be almost infinite.

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