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My topic: Systematic oppression through education as demonstrated in black children (in the 1900s)
I'll explain each of my drafts and why they didn't work:

Why where black children oppressed through education? Just a starting naive approach, this does not work because it assumes that black children were oppressed in the first place, and it is too broad.

What did the south intend to gain by segregating black children to subpar education facilities. This, I was told by my history teacher, does not invoke debate (I'm not sure if this is true, because can't the south's motives be argued?)

I'm not sure where to go from here, maybe I can set up a question that debates between the south's justification of segregation and ? I'd really appreciate any help.

I'm sorry if this is the wrong place to ask, or the wrong type of question, but I'm truly at a loss here and need help.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not a historical question – Jos Jan 25 '19 at 6:39
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    @Jos do you know where I could ask this? I know it's not historical, but I can't find a better place. – robert Jan 25 '19 at 6:41
  • Thank you @pnuts, however, looking at Academia, they seem to not allow questions specific to a field, like this one is. – robert Jan 25 '19 at 7:14
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    Rather simple actually - check out all the questions on this site closed either as "Too Broad" or "Primarily Opinion Based". Just about all those questions have been closed for being exactly what you are attempting to obtain, and find a formula for. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 26 '19 at 0:08
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Creating a history question is a fourth year (Australian “honours,” US “masters”) problem.

A historical question ought to bring theory into intersection with a gap in knowledge into intersection with a gap in literature.

“Debate,” is a pretty poor measure. Historiography documents debates amongst historians. Historians document debates amongst the people and institutions of the past.

Your second attempt at a question is facile because it requests an enumerated list. It wrongly creates a category “the south.” For historians categories have to be one of two things. Categories either have a theoretical basis, which requires a theoretical framework (“rural extraction economy planter bourgeois in a world systems framework”). Or categories need to be found in the documentary record of the past. Here we wouldn’t import a category from the past without saying whose category it is.

Finally, we should be particularly suspicious of declaring descriptive or theoretical categories as agents. Only humans and deliberate associations of humans display historical agency. Other descriptions of groups of people might have behaviour that arises from combinations and conflicts of agents, but they don’t display choice, as these descriptive or theoretical groups emerge in analysis not in self organisation.

This is an even worse flaw in a question if the existence of the category is tenuous, ie: debated or emergent only within a certain analysis. You can get away with a bit of shorthand here, “the proletariat” in a rising condition of class struggle is normally considered as the militant section of the working class whose self-conscious debates have been eliminated from the record as they were oral or recorded with all identification removed due to expected persecution. And even here doing so means you align your project with a strong theoretical tradition and then need to negotiate the limits and difficulties of such a position.

For example, in relation to the ruling vibe in Australia’s long 1950s: “Harold Holt,” was an agent in Australian history; “The Liberal/National cabinet” similarly. However “Nationals voters,” is a description from the time of a non-organised body, and “state dependent squatocracy,” is a contemporary theoretical category which wasn’t self organising at the time for deliberate decision making.

To give and explain an example question covering the above, “Does Foucaults conception of discipline as applied to education explain the State of Georgia’s funding of teacher numbers and teacher selection in public education for black children in the 1920s?”

Theory, evaluation of extent required, a specific actual agent (institution here), a knowable and limited domain (numbers and criteria), a specific subject (Georgian children who were black) and a specific time.

Crafting a question is more than half the battle. Ensuring that it is limited but presents “why” problems is important. In closing, remember that the question needs to animate your historical imagination sufficiently for you to enjoy doing the work. But do try to pick small digestible problems with a clear and easy way to complete your analysis in a timely way.

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  • Agentic!? I presume you mean to say "doesn't possess agency", which is not a synonym for "agentic" - "That behaves like an agent, assuming no responsibility for actions or their consequences, only following the orders of someone in authority." – Pieter Geerkens Jan 25 '19 at 23:06
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    I’m pretty sure I meant that the above invented category “the south” does not possess the behaviour of an agent. I was using the rhetorical device of diminution through adjective to emphasise the lack of agency of an illegitimate category. However, as it is evidently unplain English, I will edit. Thank you for pointing out! – Samuel Russell Jan 25 '19 at 23:57
  • The problem is that the word agentic is a technical term, with a very specific technical meaning that differs subtly from an assumed meaning one might infer; but no history of usage as a general language term. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 25 '19 at 23:59

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