On Genealogy

The keynote lecture delivered by Jerome De Groot was quite an energetic kick-off to the IFPH 2014 conference on ‘Public history in a digital world’. De Groot focused on the topic of genealogy to unlock a broad field of themes relating to historical practices outside academia. In this blog, we want to elaborate on three topics that seem the most relevant to us.

De Groot started his contribution by noting that ‘genealogy’, as one of the biggest participatory activities on earth, is largely undertheorised. By referring to online-databases such as ‘Ancestry.com’ and TV-series like ‘Who do you think you are’ he stressed its popularity (though mainly as ‘Western’ phenomenon). According to De Groot, people doing history at home, often independently on their own, refers to a way of thinking about history, time and historical research that differs strongly from academic history. He called it a ‘shift in epistemology’. Later on in his talk, De Groot elaborated on this shift by focusing on the impact of DNA-research in the form of a sense of ‘deep time’ that challenges the partial understanding of academic historical research (cf. the contribution of Charles Romney to the session ‘Telling history in print and in digital form’, where he focused on the topic of multiple chronologies). Apart from this contribution of natural science, De Groot also stressed the danger of DNA-research (and the whole industry surrounding it) to strengthen the linear structuralist view upon the past as a sort of ‘master family tree’ with no place for complexity and contextualisation.

The second issue De Groot drew attention to relates to the phenomenon of crowd-sourcing (cf. lecture of Mia Ridge in the session of ‘Citizen and community history’). A company such as ‘Ancestry.com’ makes profit out of the voluntary shared contribution of its users, and especially out of the ‘commodification’ of that information. By its voluntariness, genealogy as ‘serious leisure’ is something like what Adam Arvidsson calls social labour. It contributes to a genealogical community-building that shapes a public sphere beyond national boundaries (cf. Manuel Castells). De Groot stressed the quality of family history as stateless history that shapes a family identity that is not ‘national’. Here again, a field of tension is being revealed between the community-building potentiality of crowd-sourcing and its commercialisation by transnational corporations. These are topics De Groot has elaborated on in his ‘Consuming history: historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture’. As some players on the public history-field tend to reduce history to a matter of transactions, markets, value and profit, history is becoming more and more commodified. According to De Groot, these phenomena have to be theorized by academic historians. This brings up questions about the privatisation of history, as Mia Ridge tweeted: ‘Great to hear critique of genealogy sties retrospectively privatising the lives of private individuals’.

De Groot’s lecture built up to the paradox between the structuralist uniformity of the family tree that is central to the popular ‘Who do you think you are’-like understanding of genealogy and the inverse understanding of genealogy by Foucault. ‘On genealogy’ is a critique of linearity. In this respect, it can be understood as a critique of the genealogical tree; as a pleading for complexity. De Groot emphasized this point by contrasting the popularity of genealogy with the upheaval of Britishness-feelings nowadays. In this context, Claire Hayward tweeted: ‘Now I’m wondering if UKIP are against genealogy and all that tracing the reality of migration over thousands of years’. De Groot could have elaborated on this paradox – which felt like the culmination of his keynote-lecture – more extensively.

To conclude, we refer to a recent ‘apology’ of family history by Alison Light in The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/11/genealogy-not-historys-poor-relation-family). The article led to a lively discussion about family history. Interesting comments questioned topics such as how people handle the discovery of the revealing fact that most of us have criminality in our lines. Some comments dealt with questions like: ‘If you discovered that your 18th century forebears were slave traders, would you see that played out before you too?’. Above all, family history has the potential to stress the contingency of history. Historical consciousness builds upon the awareness that history could have been different. It calls attention to the complexity in the sense of Foucault’s understanding of genealogy.

Blog by Jonas Heirbrant and Dieter Bruneel (Ghent university)

41 thoughts to “On Genealogy”

  1. Hey There. I found your weblog using msn. This is an extremely smartly written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to learn more of your helpful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.|

  2. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will eventually come back later on. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great job, have a nice morning!|

  3. I do accept as true with all the ideas you’ve offered for your post. They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too short for novices. May you please lengthen them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.|

  4. Hello there I am so thrilled I found your web site, I really found you by accident, while I was searching on Bing for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a marvelous post and a all round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read more, Please do keep up the superb work.|

  5. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I am satisfied that you just shared this useful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.|

  6. I quite like the many written content, I’ve got to declare my spouse and i loved, My spouse and i would really like more details relating to this specific, mainly because it is quite wonderful., Thanks a lot with regards to disclosing. 먹튀폴리스

  7. I admire this article for the well-researched content and excellent wording. I got so involved in this material that I couldn’t stop reading. I am impressed with your work and skill. Thank you so much 먹튀검증사이트

  8. It again has the opinion absolutely applicable. Most of less significant characteristics are established throughout a large number of log coaching. I really like the coating an abundance 메이저놀이터

  9. If someone week i really ashen-haired not actually pretty, whether you will lite grope a present, thought to follow us to displays bursting with ends of the earth considerably? Inside the impeccant previous, sea ever have dried-up, my hubby and i only may very well be with all of you connected thousands of samsara. 바카라사이트

  10. Live football website, a paradise for those who are crazy about football. For you to enjoy entertainment for free. We select quality football from different corners of the world, such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, which include links, updates, watch live football online, ball online is a stable website. most All pairs, all league can be watched, 24 hours a day, 메이저놀이터

  11. Persons appreciate shopping for amazing, appealing, fascinating and from time to time attractive aromas for them selves and pertaining to others. This can be executed conveniently along with inexpensively in an on-line perfume shop. 먹튀검증

  12. pleasant post, stay aware of this fascinating work. It truly regards realize that this subject is being secured likewise on this site so cheers for setting aside time to talk about this! 사설토토

  13. A Hunting & Outdoor Optics Magazine We publish helpful information about Binoculars, Monoculars, Scopes and many other Hunting Gear. Latest Articles Popular Articles Be The first to know the latest 메리트카지노

  14. Our flare for marketing and penchant for data makes us the best providers of data driven marketing. We provide email marketing list for various industries and sectors like doctos, decision makers, etc. 사설토토

  15. naturally like your web site however you have to test the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very bothersome to tell the reality on the other hand I will surely come back again 토토사이트

  16. Can I say what a relief to discover one who actually knows what theyre preaching about on-line. You certainly understand how to bring a challenge to light making it important. More and more people really need to check out this and understand why side of your story. I cant believe youre less well-known simply because you undoubtedly develop the gift. 먹튀검증

  17. Hi, Neat post. There is a problem along with your web site in internet explorer, could check this? IE still is the marketplace leader and a big portion of other folks will leave out your wonderful writing because of this problem. 파워볼

  18. You are really a great web marketer Clash of Clans Generator. The internet site filling pace will be awesome. That type of seems that you’re executing just about any special key. Also, This material tend to be masterpiece. you must have done a fantastic exercise within this matter! 릴게임

  19. You know therefore significantly when it comes to this subject, made me in my view consider it from numerous varied angles. Its like men and women are not involved unless it is one thing to do with Girl gaga! Your own stuffs excellent. All the time maintain it up! 대딸방

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.