Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Paul Knevel is the second of these scholars. We hope you will post your comments to add to this discussion.
The largest family tree in the world, as claimed by the International Family Museum in Eijsden, the Netherlands. Photo credit: International Museum for Family History
As could be expected by the author of the broad and lucid Consuming History, Jerome de Groot demonstrates in his article in The Public Historian an amazing ability to discuss thoroughly topics and themes that would for others take book-length or even career-length considerations. “Genealogy and Public History” thus not only deals with the various ways that genealogy and family history could be undertaken and imagined by various people and groups but also with such large and profound issues as the impact and construction of “knowledge infrastructures” in a digital age, the silencing character of the archive, the ethical sides of dealing with the dead, the neo-liberalisation of public space generated by commercial websites, “digital labour,” and many other themes and ideas. The result is a clever, multi-layered, insightful, and thought-provoking essay that challenges public historians to rethink today’s digital historical culture and practices, their own role, and the activities of millions of people (see the stunning figures mentioned by De Groot) who are doing genealogy and family history and thus trying to connect themselves with the past. Consequently, it is impossible to address in this short reaction all the topics and themes raised in De Groot’s article. Continue reading
Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of massive amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Sara Trevisan is the first of these scholars. Please consider adding your own comments to the conversation below.
The Steward Window (1574), showing Banquo as the root of the family tree. Image credit: J.H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History (New York: Longmans: 1901)
In today’s genealogical search, lack of evidence on a family ancestor signifies the impossibility to assess any further their role within the structure of our genealogical tree. Genealogy is to us”‘a gesture to completeness that is continually thwarted by the limitations of the archive,” and thus shows us that knowledge can have an end. The search for family origins is therefore destined to remain ever unfulfilled and frustrated due to the epistemology of ‘historical truth” by which it is ultimately guided. Yet, until the second part of the seventeenth century–when the principles of historical method still had not fully taken hold–the “mythical” aspect of family origins was an integral part of genealogical reconstruction. This was especially true for monarchs and noble families. Continue reading
International Federation for Public History / Fédération Internationale pour l’Histoire Publique logo. Credit: IFPH/FIHP blog
Public historians attending a National Council on Public History (NCPH) Annual Meeting during the organization’s first thirty years of existence (1979-2009) rarely benefited from opportunities to learn about or discuss public history practices beyond the borders of the United States or Canada. A glance at the conference program from the 2009 meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, for example, shows that little attention was given to any international topics beyond a few sessions addressing the need to devise strategies for working with international tourists to public history sites in the United States. Some Canadian scholars attended and participated in these annual meetings, but ultimately international scholars looking to promote their public history work or network with like-minded scholars during NCPH’s first thirty years regretfully lacked a strong platform in which to do so. Continue reading
Happy spring, all you consultants out in cyberspace! Monday, May 6th, will bring you our seventh monthly Consultants’ Corner Tweetchat. The chat will be held at 4:00 p.m. EST and the topic will be “international perspectives in historical consulting.” We hope you can join us, and we especially welcome consultants from nations outside the United States.
To participate in this and future TweetChats, you will need to sign up for a Twitter account by going to www.twitter.com. When it’s time for the chat, go to http://tweetchat.com/ and enter #phconchat as the chat hashtag. Alternatively, you can work with a special Twitter browser like TweetDeck. Let us know if you have any questions in advance of the chat, and we hope to see you there on Monday!
~ The Consultants’ Corner Editorial Team (@NCPHconsultants)
On a recent conference call that connected public history practitioners from Bangladesh, Brazil, Italy, Spain, South Africa, and the U.S., one participant remarked on the utility of replicating historic site and museum programs from different geographic locations in others. Another extolled the benefits of sharing ideas, methods, and experiences across the different regions of the world. Meanwhile I mapped these diverse localities in my mind, juxtaposing one local program with another; drawing others into the picture; putting in conversation an oral-history archive in Santiago with an aspiring one in Cambodia; comparing what to do with the former UN Special Courts building in Sierra Leone and what to do with a former site of detention and torture in Argentina; the universal linkages, I think, that connected these diverse locales.
Truth be told, I am interested in the idea of an international public history (maybe as part of a broader shift to public humanities) as much as I am with the idea, articulated in Robert Weyeneth’s recent piece in this blog, that the bedrock of public history remains rooted in the local, a particular place, a house’s history, the story of a neighborhood, the “location-specific case study.” Continue reading