Week 5: Realizing the limits of history and research

May 07, 2020

This project is really the first time I’m doing history on my own. As a result, I’ve realized the challenges historians face. Namely, the fact that some questions are too broad to fully answer.

My question, “How did protest music affect Americans’ opinions of the Vietnam War,” is one of these.

As I read about protest music, it becomes more apparent that I’m learning from a limited view point. According to the Census, 203,211,926 people lived in the US by 1970. That means that there exist millions upon millions of answers to my question. There were Americans who loved protest music, and there were Americans who hated it. There were people who didn’t even know it existed or listened to it at some point and forgot about it.

My work is inherently limited in scope, because it is impossible to gather every single American’s take on protest music during the Vietnam War. And this challenge would still be true if I was working alongside a team of 10 experts, 100, 1000, or any number you could think of. I can only extrapolate, suggest, and propose based on what has been recorded. After all, that’s what history is. 

Unfortunately protest music was not a heavily researched topic during the Vietnam War, so I expect that there are interesting moments of musical protest and insightful takes that have not been recorded. The obscurity poses a challenge.

However, it is a challenge that I am glad to have become acquainted with. I now know the difficulties of historical research, because I have experienced them personally. 

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