16 January 2009

Food for Thought [Random]

I have just finished up reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, which explores the divergence in the rise of dominant social forces across continents. In other words, how come Europe came to dominate across the globe, instead of being dominated by someone like the Aztecs or the Australian aborigines?

Anyways, it was a fascinating book, and well worth a read. But in the epilogue, Diamond had a great sentence which really struck me as pertinent to anyone doing research, especially genealogists:

"Naturally, a host of issues...remain unresolved. At present, we can put forward some partial answers plus a research agenda for the future, rather than a fully developed theory."

And this from someone who wrote a 450 page book on the subject! It occurs to me that all genealogy is really a process in motion, and never quite put to rest. The fumbles, I think, come when we fail to engage in the ongoing development of our research, constantly pushing ahead with a "future agenda for research". Granted the complexity of history and the nuance of every single human life, we're writing and researching essentials that are not easily, if ever, captured.

It seems a great lens to approach each research subject, when we ask "who was this person, and what was their life like?" What is our partial answer? What is our agenda for further research? At what point do we call our theory "the story" and what steps do we take to document it?

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