Family History and Transnational Historical Consciousness

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Transnationalism, Nationalism and Australian History, 2017, pp. 167 - 178
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Family history has become one of the most widely practiced forms of vernacular history around the world over the last thirty years. While that boom in family history has sometimes been understood as a response to globalization and rapid change—a search for “something solid in a shifting world” —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 continue to spawn franchises around the world in response to an apparently insatiable popular 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. Like the other chapters in this collection, our own explores intersections between the national and transnational in relation to historical practice. In this case, it is the field of family history that piques our research interest: in particular, we want to examine the ways this vernacular 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. A range of academic historians shares our fascination with the growth of genealogy and other forms of public, popular history across the world. However, many also choose studiously to ignore its popularity. It is scholars in other disciplines, especially sociology, human and cultural geography, as well as information studies, who have dominated scholarly discussion on its practice and meanings. Over the last five years Evans has written about the meanings and politics of family history in Australia based on research and interviews with family historians, while Clark has concentrated on engaging with “ordinary” people about their understandings of history—both personal and collective. Evans’ work is currently focused on understanding the varied ways in which family history is practiced in different countries and what impact this has had on the development of historical consciousness around the world. Clark has also become increasingly interested in the relationship between community historical engagement and national historical consciousness. This section combines our research to argue that while family history is often understood to form around distinct identities and within particular cultural or national boundaries, it is simultaneously transnational.
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