GEN-MEDIEVAL-L ArchivesArchiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2000-01 > 0948821191
From: Rafal Prinke <>
Subject: Re: Ratings issues
Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2000 18:26:31 +0100
(Stewart Baldwin) wrote:
> I think this misinterprets what is meant by a "consensus". ES may
> represent the consensus for SOME of the relationships that it states,
> but it certainly cannot be regarded as doing so for all of the
> relationships contained therein.
That's right - but such "strict" interpretation of a "consensus" makes
it something rather abstract. I think that ES represent the consensus
on a practical level, being an erudite compilatory synthesis of research
up to the time of their publication. A historian who is not particularly
interested in genealogy itself and seeks a basic reference for his other
arguments, should use ES rather than Isenburg or 19th c. compilations.
ES do use qualifiers such as a question mark, parentheses or dotted lines
to indicate uncertain links - and this uncertainty also IMHO represents
a consensus (negative consensus).
> Each claimed relationship has to be
> looked at separately. To give an example where consensus is clearly
> present and is unlikely to change, King Henry I of England is stated
> to be the son of William the Conqueror in a multitude of contemporary
> documents, and I am unaware of any scholars who question that
But consider the example of Richenza of Lotharingen, wife of Mieszko II
of Poland. There was a perfect consensus about who her mother was
(Mathilda, dau of emp. Otto II), as the filiation was well documented by
contemporary sources. And then Hans Constantin Faussner published
a monograph on the family of Kuno von Oehningen in the respectable scholarly
_Deutsches Archiv fuer Erforschung des Mittelalters_ (1981) in which he
argued her mother was someone else (Richenza von Oehningen). Both Hlawitschka
and Jasinski rejected his hypothesis - but did that publication change
status from "certain" to "uncertain"? In other words, did it break
the former consensus and do we now have to wait for more articles?
> Of course, what it means to have a consensus might mean different
> things to different people. I think that most would agree that an
> absence of contraversy about a particular link could be regarded as a
> consensus, provided that a reasonable number of people have looked at
> the problem.
The key word here is "provided" :-) While the ruling branches of dynastic
families attract many researchers, less important families often are
not argued about - or at least the frequency of articles published on
such families is very low. If a monograph on a medieval family was
published in the 19th c. and nobody questioned its finidngs later,
it does not necessarily mean there is a consensus - but rather that
there is no special interest of other researchers.
> For example, if an article is published in a journal
> like TAG offering straightforward evidence about a newly discovered
> relationship, and has been read by the general readership of that
> journal without any objections being raised, then I think it would be
> reasonable to regard it as representing a consensus. (After all, most
> genealogists are not shy about raising objections if they think they
> have spotted a serious goof. :-))
This argument assumes that the sum total of TAG's readership knowledge
covers the whole of genealogy - which I do not think is quite true.
I can imagine an article on a Polish medieval family which would
pass unchallenged in an American journal but would cause considerable
discussion when published in a Polish journal. This is because TAG presumably
does not reach Polish scholarly circles (because of the language barrier
and physical reality - I doubt if there are any subscribers in Poland).
> As for the criterion of consensus not being stable, that is hardly a
> valid objection. It is inevitable in any subject of possible
> contraversy, and every single one of the "rating systems" that has
> been suggested is similarly unstable and subject to change as new
> discoveries are made.
Yes, but with such strict interpretation of a consensus, any large
compilation of genealogical data (either printed or on-line) would
be outdated almost immediately after its publication. With on-line
data it is theoretically possible to keep it always up-to-date
but we know that the existing databases are not for lack of time,
money, volunteers etc. So I propose to redefine the notion
of a consensus which would be the "state of the art" at the time of
publication of a serious scholarly synthesis. Alternatively,
it can be called a "soft" or "relative" consensus, as opposed to
the "hard" or "absolute" one.
Such approach tends to look at the development of genealogical
knowledge as a series of stages marked by large synthetic compilations,
with lots of articles, monographs, reviewes, arguments, etc.
in between those stages. So the current consensus is "fixed" from
time to time and can serve as a frame of reference for further
> For example, if A has been proposed as the father of B, but that choice is
> contraversial, and hotly debated, why not have a separate field
> labelled "Proposed Father" (or something similar, which might have
> more than one entry) in which proposed candidate(s) could be given,
> leaving the entry in the "Father" field blank for the time being.
This is a very good idea. Actually, several programs do allow for multiple
parents to be linked to one individual - but the feature is rarely used.
Still, in a case of an obscure family on which there was little or no
serious research, the dillemma of what represents the consensus remains.
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