APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2003-11 > 1070250560
Subject: RE: [APG] Genealogical Theory (inc. Schools, Academics, etc.)
Date: Sun, 30 Nov 2003 19:49:33 -0800
On 30 Nov 2003 at 20:45, Jerry Fitzpatrick wrote:
> Although many interesting metaphors, hypotheses and ideas were
> presented, there appears to be no branch of genealogical study that can
> legitimately be called "theoretical genealogy" (based on the definition
> I provided). Some expressed hope for theoretical inquiries and
> publications, but no one suggested how this might be achieved.
> Personally, I find it interesting that historians typically focus on
> broad trends and relationships in an attempt to understand 'why' things
> happened the way they did. This is quite different than the work of
> physical scientists, who examine 'how' things work in exacting detail.
> (Maybe the difference between 'why' and 'how' is blurred here.)
As I read your analysis, Jerry, I was reminded of the history of the
field of anthropology. At one time, it too possessed no fundamentals,
no theory. There was only field work, and reporting. I don't know
that I would call theory a "branch" of anthropology, however.
> I'm not sure that the existence of hobbyists and quacks is a legitimate
> barrier to academia. My elderly aunt makes oil paintings as a pastime.
> She has won a few awards and she has sold some of her works at church
> sales. She is self-taught and does not strive to become a professional
> artist. Her paintings cannot be compared to Rembrandt's, nor do they
> threaten the integrity or popularity of university art programs.
> Likewise, art forgeries -- while financially problematic -- do not
> undermine the value of drawing techniques, color theory, and other
> artistic studies.
There have always been hobbyist historians and scientists. Far from
being barriers to academia, they have made many important advances in
their respective fields.
> At the risk of sounding naïve, I have a few observations/hypotheses of
> my own:
> 3. The study of genealogy may have many academic impediments. One
> impediment, though, may be the fact that most genealogical research
> deals with "everyday people" rather than celebrities, world leaders, and
> nobility. Ironically, the acts of nameless people often shape history as
> much or more than the famous.
Social history should be paying attention to our findings, and our
methods, however. That branch of history focuses on the everyday life
of average people, and how their choices influence history. Social
history is a relatively new branch of historical research, however.
We probably never will hob-nob with those who study kings and
presidents, wars and international relations. But I can see the day
when we work with social historians as equals. Of course, as we do
good genealogy, we pay attention not only to social history, but also
the "kings and wars" -- and anthropology, too.
> 4. Although genealogy fundamentally deals with people, its practice is
> (or should be) very methodical. Distinguishing between fact and fiction
> requires analytical thought (what some call "critical thinking").
> Expressing this information to others requires effective, unambiguous
> communication techniques. In this respect, there are many parallels
> between genealogical research and scientific research.
I would think that social history methodology and theory would have a
lot to teach us. And I'll bet we could teach them a thing or two,
> 5. As far as I know, every "serious" (i.e. academic) field of study has
> a formal theoretical foundation. The theory is developed, refined, and
> taught by those who wish to be professionals or scholars. The theory
> influences the tools and techniques that both professionals and
> hobbyists use.
Look at women's history, as an example. The women's history books
being written 30 or 40 years ago were pretty shoddy. As the
scholarship (and theory), so did the publications. And of course, the
teaching improved, also. The very same thing happened in the field of
anthropology and archaeology.
> To me, the apparent lack of genealogical theory is a bigger impediment
> to academic acceptance than funding, popularity, peer review, or other
> issues. By theory, I don't mean 'why are we here' or 'where is the best
> place to look for records'. I mean the formal quantification of
> genealogical goals, terminology, relationships, evidence analysis, and
> so forth (as I attempted to define at the beginning of this message
It will come. The work has to come first, and then somebody can come
along and analyze it.
> Although there is apparently a void in genealogical theory, there are
> some nuggets to be found. Its aim was technological, but it seems to me
> that the GENTECH data model describes some aspects of genealogy theory.
> For example, it formally defines the relationship between assertions
> (personal 'facts') and evidence, sources and repositories, and so on. It
> also provides guidance for further research, suggesting the possibility
> of a "name expert", a "location expert", and others.
> Not everyone is suited to develop or understand theories. Many people
> are bored by theory and do not see the connection to their work-a-day
> world. This is completely appropriate and understandable, but it also
> points up the difference between a scholar and a practitioner.
> Nevertheless, aren't both areas needed for a field of study to have a
> long, credible existence?
The very fact that we are having this discussion tells me that the
time is coming in the not too distant future, that the theory will
begin to be published. Hopefully the fine members of the APG and the
NGS will be in the forefront of this analysis.
My two cents,
Valorie <--- anthro/women's studies major in college