Going global: exploring the changing face of international family history

Posted by Kristen Hyde on September 1, 2017 in AncestryDNA

Senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, Jerome de Groot, explores the cultural perceptions of family history ahead of hosting the International Family History Workshop in Manchester (21-22 September).

Family history is exploding all around the globe. It is an activity that is developing and expanding. Individuals and groups undertake genealogy across borders, as participants look at records from around the world to develop their narratives. Millions of users are researching their family history in their own country, but, helped by the Internet, can expand their investigations internationally.

Genealogical work involves consideration of issues that are central to contemporary identity and history: migration; social mobility; economics; memory; evidence and provides us with unprecedented insight into how history is undertaken, imagined, and discussed.

Family history has become one of the most widely practiced forms of history across the globe over the last thirty years. Family history is a global, international practice that we are still far from understanding in full and many academics and researchers want to learn more. Many scholars are fascinated with the growth of genealogy and other forms of public popular history across the world. However, many historians also choose studiously to ignore its popularity.

While the boom in family history has sometimes been understood as a response to globalisation and rapid change—a search for “something solid in a shifting world” (Davison, The Use and Abuse of Australian History, 2004, p. 83)—the sheer scale of that historical interest also points to a distinct historical paradox: the search into local and familiar pasts is a decidedly international practice.

The reach of the Internet has opened up archives to anyone with a computer, lines between the production and consumption of history have become increasingly blurred, as local and family historians share methods and data with researchers around the world, and popular historical programs and resources, such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Ancestry.com add to the historical appetite.

We are just as likely to see a genealogist or family historian researching in our archives and public libraries as academic historians. In historical terms, it seems, the local is indeed global.

We arranged the International Family History workshop in partnership with Ancestry.com to bring scholars and family historians together to think about what Family History means in the world right now. How does family history change in different cultural contexts, with different working practices and heritages? How does family history work as a global practice?

The workshop brings together speakers from Brazil, Australia, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, India, Ireland and the Netherlands to think about family history in particular national contexts. There is also a talk by Alison Light, author of Common People, about doing family history in the contemporary world. The talks will be made available online and there will be blogs by each scholar expanding upon their ideas.

The International Family History workshop will provide a framework for thinking about family history across the world, and ask some searching questions about the phenomenon. It will be the very first meeting of scholars to consider the international aspect of family history.

Through talks and discussion, we will examine the ways this form of historical practice reflects both a popular desire for intimate and local histories of the everyday, while at the same time representing a distinctly international moment in historical practice. The workshop will give participants extra knowledge and a new dimension to their research. It will communicate cutting-edge research about family history around the world.

What new knowledge might be created if we bring these key scholars together to discuss the phenomenal growth of family history in different nations? We will ask important questions and debate pressing issues. Participants will gain new insight into the way that scholarship works, and this will help them develop their research skills for the future. Through conversation, debate, and feedback sessions – as well as some networking and discussion over lunch and coffee – participants will discover new ways to think about their own family history work in an international context.

How does family history ‘work’ in your country? What are the local, national, global contexts that you think you work in? Does this change if you have your DNA tested as part of your investigation? We would love to hear your thoughts on these topics ahead of the International Family History Workshop in September – please feel free to share via comments or Twitter.

The International Family History workshop is hosted by Jerome de Groot and Tanya Evans and will be held on 21-22 September in Manchester. For more information, follow @DoubleHelixhist on Twitter. For information about attending Alison Light’s talk on family history, head to the Eventbrite page: Alison Light’s Family History for a Floating World discussion.

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