Saturday, September 25, 2010

Research tips for students in HIST 3805 -- Report on an Islamic country

Some tips as to how to research your report on an Islamic country.

The purpose of your report is to inform you and your readers on the basic social, economic, and political facts about a given country with an Islamic past or present. To do this assignment well, you have to become well informed on your chosen country, and present those basic facts in a comprehensible way to your fellow students (who will not actually been reading your report). You will also want to inform yourself and your readers about the place Islam has in your chosen country today.

I do not want to discourage you from looking in the library and printed reference works that live there, but in many cases we will not have good up to date material on your country in the stacks. (I have put a few good books on reserve there.) For a short report, much of the good stuff is available online.

Two important sources are news sites and NGO reports. Identifying good news sites takes patience because most news stories are aimed at explaining a single incident. The good news sites sometimes provide a lot of background material, either in a normal story or in a special report. One problem is that the web is dominated by American news coverage, and American news organizations tend to be obsessed at the moment with the war on terror and its connection with Islam. What Islam means in Syria, Iraq, or Somalia, does not come up.

One good source of information is a Middle Eastern site, Al-Jazeera, originally aimed at an Arabic audience, or the Guardian (UK), while the Daily Star in Lebanon or Al-Ahram in Egypt may have material that will be useful to you. Israeli sources are worth a look but they tend to be very narrowly on Israeli politics.

To search these sites I simply combine the name of the newspaper or journal with the name of the country: for instance, “GlobalPost Yemen,” or “McClatchy Yemen.” (GlobalPost is a reasonably good internationally oriented source; McClatchy is one of the better American news services.)

The same method works well when searching NGO sites such as those belonging to Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. Organizations like these which keep track of human rights violations are interested in what governments to and not what they say, and also are pretty good at explaining the current (un)satisfactory situation in a medium term historical perspective. I was pleasantly surprised by how much basic information there was about Yemeni society in the report in Freedom House.

You may want to poke around in other specialized sources such as the journal Foreign Policy. Use your imagination.

And remember, the war on terror is not your primary subject, so don’t let journalists and politicians drag you in that direction.

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