[APG Public List] Who Are We, Really?

Barbara Mathews bmathews at gis.net
Fri Oct 2 09:53:39 MDT 2009


In my personal opinion, Donn's question about conferences and lead times for
speech proposals touches on many fundamental underlying qualities about
genealogy as a practice, hobby, profession, technology, and -- indeed --
calling. 

Please permit me enough leeway here to be blunt. This is my personal point
of view and doesn't represent that of any of the organizations in which I
participate. 

If we look at "professional conferences" as a group of meetings around
topics that are researched stringently at the university level (such as
anthropology, biology, physics, medicine, etc.), then we are looking at
conferences in which ALL of the participants are heavily educated already in
the topic being discussed. We are looking at topic areas in which there are
accepted stringent research methodologies. These people couldn't argue about
what a study really implies if they didn't have a methodology for "proof" at
the heart of their studies.

If we look at genealogy conferences, are we not looking at venues which are,
in fact, one of the few educational opportunities for people who generally
work on their own and are self-educated in the topic?

We are talking about very different beasts.

This puts me in mind, in a lopsided way, of cross-stitch conventions. There
I expect to find quite a few hobbyists who completely love the work, a few
people from vendors who are highly educated in the technology of fabric and
thread (which can be studied at the university level as one of my college
roommates did), a few talented stitchers whose skill level and design sense
put them in some other category of being more like an artist than a
hobbyist, a few historians, and a few very gifted collectors whose knowledge
of sampler history makes them more like Ph.D. historians. What a wide swath
this cuts through humanity, as it were. They all are welcome and quite a few
methodolgy presentations are available.

I feel like I am putting myself out there as a lightening rod being a
devil's advocate like this, but I do see genealogy conventions as having
more in common with cross-stitch conventions than with meetings of the AMA.

That said, I think it is perfectly possible to take a slice through the
genealogical community that presents a very different picture. I do know
people whom I would put in the Ph.D. category of doing genealogy. These are
people whose analysis of the evidence includes an analysis of the milieu
from which that evidence came, whose command of the time and place on which
they focus is superb. The TIGTAM and Great Migration projects or the BU
program are like that. People who can really build up sweat thinking about
the evidence in a much more comprehensive way. Within that thin slice, I
think I could find a group of people who could do just what others have
noticed about professional conventions outside of our field, that is, engage
in strenuous and perhaps even statistical evaluation of the work of others. 

I sometimes think that it's not the History Departments we should be trying
to engage at the college level, but the Anthropology Departments as domestic
(i.e., home-based) anthropologists. We could all go for Ph.D.'s in kinship
determination if only we were doing it in Bora Bora.

But, look (and here is where I will really be a lightening rod), where are
we as a "profession" if the Genealogical Proof Standard isn't even widely
accepted or even known? That underlying common stringent methodology for
evaluation and thesis-testing is missing from the repertoire of many
conference attendees. That is why our national conferences look and feel so
different.

Yours, Barbara Mathews




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