Border Conflict Analysis Prospectus
Primary documents vs secondary sources
Primary documents are the records, treaties, and events that were recorded at the time they happened. treaties are available in many sites around the internet but be sure that you are accessing the correct one.
Disputes that have been heard at the ITLOS or ICJ produce a lot of primary court materials, much of which is a rich source of information. Students must be cautious in selecting these resources since court cases are adversarial processes, meaning each side presents a case that is very likely to be selective in scope and facts as they put forward their best case. These are documents, however, that reveal the difference in their competing perspectives, which is very useful for conflict analysis. Judgements from these courts often contain the justices findings on matters of factual claims, ie, which facts are correct and which are more relevant to the legal question at hand. One more note of caution: legal questions are not the same as political questions. A legal finding by the ICJ does not usually temper nationalist sentiments!
Secondary sources are works written by others and may be histories or conceptually driven analyses. Academic journal articles and books are almost always secondary sources. It is often most helpful if a student starts with a general knowledge of a conflict, its actors, major events, and controversies.
A general history book of a conflict is a useful starting point but students will need to read quickly and focus on the portions pertinent to their conflict. Beyond this, students should probably focus on more specialized analysis found in academic journal articles, discussed below.
Bias and objectivity
Students must also take care to avoid histories that are written from a mono-national or nationalist framework; seek academic studies that attempt to objectively present the perspectives and actions of the actors to the conflict.
Boundary Conflict Resources
Researching boundaries can be a laborious process unless you know where to look. Legal research is often conducted with the aid of government archives, university and private libraries, and access to boundary commission notes and files. Some of that research is available in public products, though it can often be out of date (but still useful!). This fragmentation of information is a typical challenge for boundary researchers who often start their analyses by gathering and updating the history of a boundary conflict using all available primary data sources including archival material, news reports, and legal filings at various jurisdictions, especially the ICJ and ITLOS, as well as secondary analyses published in books and academic journals.
Sources for political geography
Using the library’s search tool for e-journals, you have access to the best research in political geography. You will find political geographical analyses in these leading academic geography journal titles, among others:
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Territory, Governance, Politics
Progress in Human Geography
Population, Space and Place
regionally focused journals, like Arab World Geographer, Eurasian Geography and Economics, etc.
Searching for journal articles
The worst place to start is Google, unless you think Wikipedia and Russian propaganda click-bait is solid scholarship. I don’t and I grade accordingly. If you are looking for news reporting, avoid news compilers (yahoo, google, AppleNews, etc) or sources that are ideological or governmentally sponsored. For example, RT is Russian propaganda with high production value that is designed to confuse issues and misinform you.
Rely on professional journalists working for well-established outlets whose reputation is based on using multiple sources with editorial independence from political and commercial influence. Reliable English-language sources include: Washington Post, New York Times, Financial Times, The Times (of London), Axios, The Economist, The Atlantic, Christian Science Monitor, BBC, NPR, PBS.
Regional and national newspapers in other countries are of varying quality: some are poorly funded (thin coverage, weak training), some have weak editorial standards (say anything as long as it sells), while others are politically pressured or aligned (self-censored or propaganda). Careful what you feed your brain!
The best place to start searching for academic research articles is the Web of Science, available through the library. Library>Databases A-Z>W>Web of Science (Core Collection)
Web of Science searches use Boolean search rules, eg, using quotes around your search for “South Sudan” looks for this two-word term but searching just South Sudan searches for articles that have the word “South” and the word “Sudan.” This database does not use natural language searches as used in Google, eg, “What happened in South Sudan last year?” would be understand as a string of search terms rather than an inquiry. The search “South Sudan” territory conflict will search for all articles that have: |South Sudan| and |territory| and |conflict|. You could also throw on a not command to exclude certain keywords, etc. On the search results page, you can further filter by date, subfields, source types and more. There is further search guidance on the site.
Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) can also be useful but it is mostly driven by popularity rankings (who clicks what rather than what best matches your search). It does not use Boolean text strings (though you can exclude some terms and specify sites under advanced search). If you sign-in to Google Scholar and add Miami’s library, your search will generate useful “Find it” buttons to help you access the electronic material from the library. Other sources may be available online.
Keeping your materials organized
I encourage students to use Zotero bibliographic software, which is free to use (additional cloud storage costs money if you want to link multiple devices). It's relatively easy to use with the browser connector, which allows you to quickly capture bibliographic information on a source in a site like Web of Science or JSTOR, etc. If there is a pdf, it vacuums that in, too (provided you've authenticated on the site). You can then cite as you write (Smith, 1999: 365) and produce the bibliography at the end of the paper, all in the major bibliographic formats (plus many more).