[APG Public List] Who Are We, Really?
laboswell at rogers.com
Fri Oct 2 10:43:06 MDT 2009
I think you're right in a general sense, simply because there isn't a strong academic discipline established yet that could handle the type of conference that you describe, and the variations that seem to be underway are tied to furthering traditional genealogical pursuits as relates to methods, practice, kinship ties, and so on.
But that doesn't mean there isn't room for other types of conferences that attempt to create a wider scope for genealogy as an academic discipline. It doesn't have to be one or the other. There's room for both self-educated and academically trained (and preferably with academic experience gained from complementary disciplines). There's room for conferences that support the type of activities that current ones cover. One won't kill off the other. In my mind the balance is too much towards genealogy (or maybe more appropriately 'family history') as a method of establishing particular genealogical relationships at the level of the individual. That focus needs to be supported by other approaches.
It's essential that we have both self-educated and academically trained individuals within this field. There would still be areas of overlap between the two, but also areas that might be completely separate as to scope, but yet serve similar purposes. Both would serve to further this field in their own way.
A lot of work has been done in the area of 'practice' and method when it comes to building connections between individuals, but is that all there is to family history? Isn't there also a need for studies and theory building that looks at wider issues that might have predictive capability or explain patterns that might have effects/impact on, but not be visible at,t visible at, the level of individuals or families? I'd also argue that with improvements in availability and pricing of DNA testing, there's even an argument to be made that genealogy's reach extends back before the wide availability of written records. Correlations with oral histories and lore. If we leave all such studies (more theoretical and taking a wider view) to other social sciences then what those studies give back to us as genealogists is more limited than if we were to do them ourselves. We have the ability to move from wider scope down to the level of the individual. It's that tighter focus, that would drive academic theory within genealogy in a way that is not at the heart of anthropological or historical views.
Yes I'd agree that the more theoretical end of things, and related conferences (academic-oriented) need academically trained individuals (but not exclusively). Clearly there aren't such individuals now (genealogy isn't an academic discipline independent of method/practice). It has to start somewhere, and there are a lot of people in this field with backgrounds in other social sciences (or correspondingly self-educated) who have the skills already married to genealogical purposes.
short answer? It doesn't have to be one or the other when it comes to conferences or approaches.
----- Original Message -----
From: Barbara Mathews
To: apgpubliclist at apgen.org
Sent: Friday, October 02, 2009 11:53 AM
Subject: [APG Public List] Who Are We, Really?
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 --
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
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
Yours, Barbara Mathews
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