Little, Hannah Mary
Genealogy as theatre of self-identity: a study of genealogy as a cultural practice within Britain since c. 1850.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis is an investigation of genealogical inquiry, but rather than interpreting genealogical activity first and foremost as a branch of history, I analyse genealogy as a form of semi-autobiographical narrative about the self. Instead of viewing the use of archives primarily as a marker of historical scholarship, I investigate the archive as a shared space or horizon in which stories about the self and one’s descent are enacted, a theatrical space in which the ‘narratability’ of the self and of others is exposed.
The thesis is divided into three chapters. The first chapter provides a ‘heritagraphical’ overview of genealogical knowledge where I argue that the pre-war history of genealogy is worth investigating; genealogy is a diverse cultural practice with its own history, historical agents and situated communities. The second chapter, ‘Archivization of Genealogical Knowledge’, explores the development of genealogy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by investigating the circulation of genealogical knowledge in the public sphere of antiquarian print culture, gender and genealogy, the connections between eugenics, genealogy and archives, and the influence of the American diaspora upon the production and consumption of genealogy within Britain. The third chapter, ‘Narrating the Genealogical Self’, develops the metaphor of the archive as a theatre of self-identity by exploring several texts, including A Family Record (1932), Roots (1976) and the television programmes, Who Do You Think You Are? and Motherland: A Genetic Journey. In doing so, ‘the archive’ is expanded to not only include the traditional notion of an institutional repository of written documentary sources, but also more recent conceptions of the archive as a body of immutable biological code, as the consignation of unique hidden traces, or as the compilation of autobiographical memory.
I conclude by arguing that genealogy can represent a desire for semi-autobiographical narrative through which the self is revealed as both a unified self and as a ‘unique existent’. This is how archives disclose to us who we are. In this way, this thesis demonstrates that archives have another function than that of providing tangible evidence of business transactions; they have an ontological function of being necessary ‘other’ evidentiary witnesses, revealing the narratability of who we are as unique historical beings, who, nevertheless, do not stand alone.
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