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I'm thinking of a (fun, borderline-historic) question about items that Margaret Thatcher might have carried in her (somewhat) often-cited handbag:

A quote by Abraham Lincoln, on at least one occasion a book by Friedrich Hayek, that much we know. A conventional upper-middle-class woman's usual items, that much can be assumed. Was she a smoker, did she need to carry a pepper spray? Was there a clunky pre-mobile-phone emergency communication device? What else?

Now do you see potential in a question of this type, or is it hopelessly open-ended and perhaps all too trivial?

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I'm reluctant to encourage such questions - they're speculative and unlikely to be answered by historical scholarship. If I'm wrong, and there are specialist scholars who research this stuff, then I promise to eat crow.

(Although I may get around to asking whether the Queen's purse actually contains anything, or whether her motivation for carrying a purse is solely to signal her handlers. I've heard speculation that she can use the purse to signal her staff with messages like "Get this punter away from me", or "For the Love of God, I need a bathroom break!". That question can probably be answered by research.

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I think that questions like these could be on topic if they are about something we could get an answer for, like what was in Margaret Thatcher's purse? However, if the question is, what did Louis XIV carry on his person? We are probably not going to have as high a success rate. In sum, I'd err on the side of no, but it is possible if the question is about someone in recent history, or the topic of the question is famous enough that we could get it answered. Mark C. Wallace is right that these can get speculative very fast.

  • I agree that there must be a plausible answer from documented sources: e.g. the Lincoln quote is mentioned here and one can reasonably hope to find out whether this person was a smoker or not (perhaps not) ... – Drux Apr 9 '13 at 13:04
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The test I would use is "would a historian be interested in that." This test would resolve a lot of other issues; "researchability," relevance, etc.

  • That's fair, of course, except that it leads to follow-up questions of what may be relevant definitions of researchability (an easy one), relevance (a tougher one), etc. – Drux Apr 11 '13 at 5:30

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