Researching a 100 Year Timeline

Hi Folks

Richard posted a good question about timeline research that I thought I would respond to on the site so that everyone could share.  Here is what he wrote:

Hey, it’s me, Richard Chan from IDC 4001H. My group’s topic is virtual trees.

We are curious about how to start about with the timeline memo. We want to focus more on the mechanical workings of the tree, rather than the publicity campaign of it. Given how (very) recent this innovation is, we were curious as to what we were to be looking back for. Should we search for the beginnings of carbon capture technology? The first ideas of carbon sequestration? Do we go back and look at the origins of the chemicals used (which, upon the cursory glance, seem like surprisingly commonplace, if not a tad dangerous, chemicals)?

As with many good questions, this one contains the seeds of its own answer.   Think about history this way:  nothing arises out of nothing; everything has some kind of precursor.  The best research involves seeing the precursor(s) in the present day example you are studying.  Richard mentions the beginnings of carbon capture technology, carbon sequestration as an approach to mitigation, and origins of chemicals.  All of these are appropriate to look into historically to some degree, the latter two (sequestration and chemicals) are more general background, while the first (specific technology) would more directly lead to the topic under study.  Also of interest is the notion that technology should mimic biology, and that the negative consequences of human intervention into nature can be solved by more intervention into nature (as opposed to growing more natural trees).

On a more concrete level, I would organize the timeline around the technology of carbon capture, keeping these other historical currents in mind, either as themes to explore in the final paper, or concepts to look out for when constructing the timeline.

Finally, don’t stress out over this exercise.  It is meant to get you thinking about your topic, and I don’t expect an exhaustive list of every event leading up to the present iteration of your issue (that would be impossible).

Keep the questions coming!

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