Research tips: “The Miss Triggs Problem”

So, I’ve been doing research – badly and then less badly until occasionally I have done it well-ish – for a while now. I am going to share – intermittently – some thoughts and maunderings about this. First up, the “Miss Triggs problem.”

There’s the amazing cartoon from Punch which I don’t think a woman alive hasn’t laughed at and a man alive hasn’t either blanked or said to himself “I’m not like that.” Here it is. [Oh it’s been pointed out that the cartoonist is Riana Duncan]

So, when you are doing research, it is relatively easy to figure out who the so-called “Big Beasts” are. When they strut and fret their hours upon the stage, they tend to leave digital/physical traces. They tend to turn up in the indexes of the books, the memoirs. But of course, there are a whole lot of other “little” people who were making the actual stuff happen, coming up with the ideas that then got appropriated and passed off as those of the Big Beast.

Your job as a researcher is to be humble and cautious about the picture you have constructed from the available evidence. Even if you have systematically raided all the available archives, well, archives were never complete, even before they were “weeded”, even before a tonne of incriminating paper showing – to choose an example entirely at random – multiple systemic atrocities aimed at the Kenyan people by the British – got dumped into the sea.

You mustn’t mistake the amount of hard work you did to fossick out stuff as an indication of its actual importance/relevance (that particular insight took me an embarrassingly long time to grok.)

How do you find the Miss Triggses? By asking the right questions in interviews, if you can get hold of people, by listening closely to the silences and the half-sentences. It can even be like seeing Pluto [still a planet in my book] – you know it is there because another planet’s orbit is wobbly in a way it shouldn’t be.

It’s hard, and countless Miss Triggses have been kept out of the history, distant or recent… (this is hardly a new observation! See for example Sheila Rowbotham’s work – Hidden from History, Women’s Consciousness, Men’s World).

2 thoughts on “Research tips: “The Miss Triggs Problem”

Add yours

    1. Thanks! Have added a link. Oh, the irony of erasing a woman while virtue-signalling about the erasure of women… Sigh.

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