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Old 22nd September 2021, 03:38 PM   #1
ariel
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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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Old 22nd September 2021, 04:53 PM   #2
mariusgmioc
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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.

Last edited by mariusgmioc; 22nd September 2021 at 05:26 PM.
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Old 22nd September 2021, 06:11 PM   #3
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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.

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Old 22nd September 2021, 06:36 PM   #4
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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.
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Old 22nd September 2021, 06:51 PM   #5
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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"?
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Old 23rd September 2021, 01:04 AM   #6
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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.
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Old 27th September 2021, 02:07 AM   #7
A. G. Maisey
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About the keris Ariel.

I am not averse to teaching, and I have given face to face information & explanation to a few people, but there are problems.

Most of the people who have sought knowledge from me have been trying to come to terms with the Javanese (or Solonese) system of classification that is known as tangguh, but to even get get a very basic understanding of this, how to use it, and what it means, really takes years and probably access to thousands of keris in the company of people who know more than you know yourself. I'll hold back on calling all these people "teachers" or "masters", in my case a couple have been true masters, but most have just been people who knew more than I did about some things.

Before one even begins to think about understanding tangguh one needs to build a solid understanding of the Javanese world view and Javanese values.

A couple of weeks of face to face is not even scratching the surface, and I cannot see how it can be done from printed material.

So teach? Sure, but teach what? Basic technical aspects have already been addressed, classification of patterns, forms, names have been addressed exhaustively. We do not need another book of pretty pictures & misguided ideas.

I have touched on some of the more arcane elements of keris belief in some of the things I've written, but nothing I've presented along these lines has drawn any sort of comment at all. Nobody seems to want to know --- or maybe they think that Maisey has spun out & is off in La-La Land.

Most of keris knowledge is keris belief, so keris knowledge comes down to knowledge of belief systems, but that knowledge does not necessarily translate to understanding, and understanding can only come from understanding of cultural & societal mores. This begins with the language of those societies.

Is the usual collector of keris, or of anything for that matter, prepared to go and learn a couple of languages and then put in a few years gaining knowledge of a culture & society, before beginning to focus on the things he is interested in collecting or studying? I do not believe so.

Teach? Teach what to whom?

Probably the best I can offer is to answer questions, but most people don't even know the right questions to ask.
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Old 27th September 2021, 04:29 PM   #8
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Sad state of affairs...
Sorry to hear that.
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Old 28th September 2021, 09:16 AM   #9
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Quote:
...Is the usual collector of keris, or of anything for that matter, prepared to go and learn a couple of languages and then put in a few years gaining knowledge of a culture & society, before beginning to focus on the things he is interested in collecting or studying?...
Alan,

I think this is what dedicated anthropologists and archeologists do. The noted anthropologist, Philip Cole, took himself and his wife to the northern Philippines to live among the Tiguan for many months to study their culture (alas, not so much about their weapons), having first learned their language and customs during earlier visits. Margaret Mead is well known for her ethnological studies in Samoa and other Pacific islands, where she too immersed herself for several years in local societies. There are probably many other examples of like-minded professionals who dedicated themselves to studying societies elsewhere, and took the time to learn languages, embed themselves in the culture, and produce excellent accounts of their findings. Unfortunately for us, there are few such studies of weapons upon which we can draw.

Ian.
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Old 28th September 2021, 01:46 PM   #10
A. G. Maisey
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Yes Ian, I know this.

I understood that this was really the only way to go after my first visit to Jawa, 50 or so years ago, but before that I had already been studying the cultures and societies of SE Asia from the age of 14.

My core interest is not weaponry, either the keris as a weapon, or any other Javanese or SE Asian weapons. My overwhelming focus is the place of the keris within Javanese & Balinese society & culture.

The things that are of primary interest to the vast bulk of collectors are now only fringe interests to me. Going back 50 & more years these "collector's interests" did occupy most of my attention to the keris, but I left that aspect behind many years ago.

Of course it is possible to be a pure collector, but I feel now that collection, in the absence of deep understanding, is just an empty shell, and any understanding at all is just not possible unless the foundations of cultural, societal and language have already been put in place.
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Old 28th September 2021, 03:42 PM   #11
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Many of us switch areas of interest.
Most of the “more or less serious ones” dig deeper into cultural and societal issues, but the majority cannot go and live among the natives. Most in general spend time studying history: without it putting things in context is impossible. Poor historiography betrays itself right away and is a death gasp of any reputation.
Language wise, we rely upon professionals: I used to consult with my colleagues and friends, native speakers. Regretfully, many times they could not decipher old grammar and/or writing style.
Kwiatek was a Godsend.
In my guess, retooling one’s skills from one area of interest to another takes somewhere between a year or two.

But then, who said that the purpose of collection should be a particular ethnicity? Why not mutants of different styles? Repurposed weapons? Symbolics? Religious undertones? Decoration techniques? Metallurgy?
There are as many collections as collectors.
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