Ok, I Lied (as Usual)

I have an interest in genealogy, but not mine very much. I have an interest in how it has become an extremely popular hobby in recent years due to technology and a new-found (though some would argue not so new-found) interest in one's descendants and where one came from.  I have a theory that this is a cultural phenomenon growing primarily in the U.S. because people (mostly white people) have lost ties to the different cultures from which their ancestors came, not surprisingly.  I'm sure other people do it too, but I don't think it is as common in people who know the culture that their ancestors come from well, through their parents and grandparents. You could also argue that there is a similar interest in some Latinos in America who are searching for a more Latino identity because by growing up in America they have not had the chance to learn Spanish or their familial traditions...or african americans (Joseph Asagai from the play "A Raisin in the Sun" comes to mind, as an example of how some African Americans at one time were interested in getting back to their "roots") or any other minority group in America.

Of course, this hobby is one that requires some time and effort (not at all as much as it used to though).  It requires a certain amount of interest, a threshold which must be overcome to actually go from just saying one is interested in their family's history to actually being actively engaged in learning more about it. This is what has changed in recent years in the general population; the interest has been growing the farther we get from our so-called "roots" and the technology has been getting easier and easier too. You could say we've reached the triple point where all the things have come together sufficiently to cause the kettle to finally start boiling. To me, that phenomenon is what is so interesting. 

I see the appeal in learning fascinating stories about one's ancestors...the excitement.  I'm not quite sure why it is so exciting when it is OUR ancestors, as opposed to someone else's...I guess it has something to do with pride. Who wants to hear that they came from a line of boring people with bad luck (like Stanley in "Holes")? No one does. We all want to hear that we came from people who lived rich and interesting lives full of adventure...and that maybe that legacy will continue through to US (somehow).  We all want to think that something in our ancestors' DNA was special, perhaps even sacred...and that we ourselves have inherited that sacred life-strand that would make us special too...that would make our OWN tale worthy of telling.

I'm sure this phenomenon is a many-faceted one as to the reasons WHY it exists and why we as humans have such interest in the people we came from.  And I'm sure there are both good and bad reasons for studying one's genealogy.  I'm not one in a position to judge whether someone's interest in it is 'good' or 'bad'.  I know that.  But I do feel that for me personally, I would love to see people have as much interest in LIVING people and EXISTING cultures as they do in their own personal ancestral narrative (and as more than just exotic entities or tales also).

One thing I have learned in my studies of anthropology is that people are not things which one simply collects data from, they aren't static subjects that you can place in a lab and measure and record.  Nor are cultural differences 'oddities' that are to be collected and awed at and memorialized as being 'traits' of a specific culture. Cultures are ever-changing, even from month to month. And to understand a culture you cannot just read a lot about it (what is referred to derogatorily as "armchair anthropology"), you have to actually experience it firsthand...you have to live it.  You have to willingly put yourself in a foreign situation, one which may even seem appalling according to your own culture's values.  That is not an easy task, nor one that is often on many people's bucket lists, let alone their favorite pastimes.  If you are not willing to cross THAT threshold, then you really have no credence, no knowledge, nothing of value at all.

Of course, that is anthropology, not genealogy...and I'm glad that there is such a difference :)
shannonymous shannonymous
18-21, F
2 Responses Sep 9, 2012

Interesting shannon. It's really not just an American phenomenon either ... we Brits are fascinated by our ancestors and there have been quite a few popular TV series recently dedicated to just such things e.g. celebrities "finding their roots" in "Who Do You Think You Are?" and recently a series where families choose to live in the style of forbears in, say, the 1940s to experience what life would have been like for their grandparents and great-grandparents. <br />
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Anthropological research is fascinating, I agree, and also important to realise that the attitudes and prejudices of the researcher (and the effect of their research on their chosen subjects) is also a factor to take into account when reviewing results. <br />
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Good post hon.

ahhh...i didnt know that it was very popular in Britain, but I have heard of that show.

And of course the attitudes/prejudices of the researcher and pretty much everything about the researcher from his/her gender, age, religion, and obviously culture are *fundamental* to cultural anthropological research. Though anthropology is a 'social' science, not really considered a 'hard' science...there are some scientific things about it. In class the other day we were discussing what is scientific about it and what isnt, my teacher corrected me when I said there are no 'controls' in anthropology with which we compare people/cultures. In fact, the 'control' is, and can only be, our own culture...because it is everything we think we know, it is like the water to a fish, it's all around but we don't recognize or realize that it is even there...but we live by it, depend on it to understand anything and everything. We judge others from our own perspectives, as human beings...that is just how we work. Of course, the one thing anyone who has ever taken any introductory anthropology class should have learned is how important it is for anthropologists to not be ethnocentric (which is basically what you are talking about when you say it is important to realize their attitudes/prejudices). Everyone has them, because everyone has their own culture...but an anthropologist attempts to take them into account in his/her studies. This also relates to the idea of change...when studying people, just the very act of being there affects the results. It is not something we can put in a lab and sterilize and reproduce reactions perfectly with. An anthropologist's presence and actions and very nature (gender, age, race, etc) has innumerable and unpredictable effects on their chosen subjects. This is not a bad thing however, not at all. Lots of people are terrified of change (I also think that might have something to do with wanting to get back to the 'way things were' with the genealogy and other things...because things have changed and are changing so much today that it is hard for people to make sense of their place in the world). The reality of the world and cultures in it though, is that they are changing everyday whether it is from the presence of an anthropologist studying them or not. Globalization is perhaps the biggest factor in this change atm, but throughout history no culture is ever static, completely definable, or even understandable. There is huge benefit however, imo...in studying anthropology (at least from a student's perspective) and in learning how the things we are told to think, our culture, is not the one and only way there is...that things that are ingrained in us as unquestionable truths since the day we are born, are not always so unquestionable or true in every "world" (aka culture). And that just because those other worlds dont look like my world, your world, doesn't make them any less valid or "civilized" or intelligent. And I'm fascinated by that...as I think most, if not all, who study anthropology are...though the same can not be said of all who are simply interested in other ways of life, which is exactly what genealogy is about...though in a way in which the differences are most closely related to one's own life/self.

thank you for the comment :)

Of course, while an anthropologist absolutely HAS to *consider* his/her own prejudices/attitude/culture and be cognisant of the effects their presence and behavior might have in a culture, they absolutely should not be *preoccupied* with examining his/her background and effect on the culture being studied, something which has been criticized in anthropology as "navel gazing" (aka talking so much about the researcher that it overshadows the information gained about the culture). There are many questions in anthropology which have NO easy or clear solutions; because when you think about it morals themselves are oftentimes defined culturally and vary from person to person, but anthropologists have codes of conduct where they must not impose their own value judgments on the subjects and yet also must straddle the line of determining when something is just a cultural 'difference', not to be judged by one's own culture's values but on its own terms and when something is just plain immoral no matter what culture you are in (it is more complex than most people would immediately think and there are no general rules which can be applied universally). I think no matter how an anthropologist deals with the messy situations inherent in studying other cultures from within that there will *always* be criticisms from people who are not involved and were not there firsthand. IMO though, it's not so much important to always know whether one's choices are "right" or "wrong"...it's impossible really; you just have to do what you can live with, you CANT always know whether it was best or not in the larger scheme of things. You can hypothesize which path to take, but you can't predict everything that will occur because of it. You can have the best intentions and yet the result will be full of possible criticisms. But all an anthropologist can do is make sure his/her intentions ARE best, or else they are not really following the goals of anthropology at all.

I don' disagree with you. =)

he he, you turd :P