Faltering Steps

1 Dec

One of the daunting aspects of starting a doctorate is the constant, niggling fear that somebody, somewhere, is doing exactly the same thing as you. This low-grade paranoia seems to be par for the course unless you are sufficiently confident that your topic area is obscure enough that nobody could possibly be researching the same thing.

My initial proposal was to examine how issues of race an racism might (or might not) have affected U.S. nuclear planning in the Asian region. I would do this by studying in detail a number of case studies, most likely the Korean War and the First and Second Taiwan Straits Crises. Little did I know…

Just after I began my Ph.D, I was informed that a book had recently appeared that covered very similar ground to me. Scratch that, it covered precisely what I was planning on doing. After Hiroshima: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945 – 1965 (Cambridge, 2010) by Professor Matthew Jones is an excellent piece of work that appeared in the lull between my Ph.D proposal being accepted and my starting at the university (1).

There is a salutary lesson to be learned here: always keep up to date with the scholarship. My mistake was to take my eye off the ball, unwise at this early stage in the doctoral process. However, there is a positive to be taken from this: I can at least take satisfaction in knowing that I identified a hole in the scholarship. Sadly, someone else filled that hole before me, but no matter.

But there was more!

Just as I had decided to move away from examining nuclear threats to studying non-rpoliferation, Shane J. Maddock produced Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill, 2010). A less convincing work than that produced by Jones, it seeks to tackle the thorny subject of nuclear non-proliferation and the American attitude towards it (2). Maddock brings in concepts of race, gender, and international hierarchy in an effort to explain the American position.

So, this double hit of substantial and significant works in my chosen topic area really knocked me for six. In the end, though, it is lucky that this happened then and not two years into the project. It has really given me an acute awareness of the need to be adaptable and flexible when it comes to working in academic history, of the need to be able to cope with such situations in as positive manner as possible.



(1) At some point in the near future, I shall post a longer review of the book.

(2) Again, a review may be forthcoming at some point.


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