Serendipitous research gold

My Sri Lanka project sporadically moves along in parallel to my more regular preoccupation with Chapter 4 of my book. I made a very lucky find recently – while wandering the footnotes of a pop military history of the Eelam wars, I found a reference to a book called Sri Lanka Army: 50 Years On (1999), which looked to be an official history of the Army. But it turned out that only three libraries in WorldCat own a copy (the Marines, the Army, and the Library of Congress).

I got a copy ILL-ed. . . .and lo and behold, in addition to a history of the army and its activities, the last ~200-odd pages are a Roll of Honour that lists the name, rank, unit, date, and place of death for over 10,000 SLA combat fatalities between 1981 and 1999. I told my RA’s to scan the whole book before we had to return it. Being less than thrilled with scanning 1,000 pages, they went looking for a copy to buy. Even though Amazon showed no available results when searching by name, for some reason one came up when they searched by ISBN. A random used bookstore had a copy which we got for $7 (then refunded when delivery got messed up).

Initial scanning and OCR suggests we’ll be able to turn the combat fatality data into a dataset fairly easily, which will allow a new mapping of SLA deaths by date and place during the LTTE and JVP revolts of the 1980s (it’s less interesting post-1990, when it’s a series of conventional clashes with the Tigers). There’s also a lot of useful nitty-gritty security studies stuff on organizational structures and army combat operations.

Of course, the Sri Lankan Police have not responded to my ~12 emails to them about police data, so you can’t always get what you want, but some footnote digging and luck can open unexpected new doors.



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