Monday, 27 March 2017

Book Review: Genealogy, Psychology and Identity.

Moving beyond basic genealogy, the names, dates and places of ancestors, we get an urge to understand what made them tick. Enter psychology, the scientific study of the way the human mind works and how it influences behaviour.
Paula Nicolson, emeritus professor in the Department of Social Work at Royal Holloway College, University of London, is both knowledgeable and articulate. Her book uses branches of her and her husband's family trees to tease out how various people have been impacted by their past and their ancestor's pasts.
The book is in two parts.
Part I: Developing Contexts starts with a chapter establishing the theoretical background -- the relationship between genealogy and the construction of self-identities, developing ideas from theories of psychology and social development. There is also a short chapter dealing with genealogical research methodology.
Part II: Psychological and historical process applies the theory to the experiences of people in the family trees. We see the approach to understanding the impact of the death of a parent, sibling or relative, family discord, immigration to a different culture, change in family circumstances and more. It's fascinating material.
But, as a physical scientist I'm uncomfortable with the qualitative approach based on case studies, albeit rooted as academic discipline and in psychiatric practice. There are so many factors at play, and people react to stresses so differently, that I question how confidently one can ascribe an individual's behaviour, likely deceased and not someone you can talk to, to his or her deceased ancestor's experience. Perhaps a psychologist could tell me the deeper reason for my discomfort!
The book is certainly thought provoking. I wondered, for instance, about the influence of physical geography on behaviour. What if any is the influence of living by the ocean, in a mountainous or prairie landscape, or a cold or highly variable climate? We've all experienced the depression of a string of cloudy dreary days, and felt invigorated by bright sunshine. Do sunny ways prevail for those raised in sunny climes?
The paperback has 132 pages which includes a 7 page index, 9 pages of references and 12 blank pages. I  borrowed the book from the Ottawa Public Library where, as I write, there are 13 holds on 2 copies.

Amazon.ca listing
Publisher: Routledge (December 1, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1138998672
ISBN-13: 978-1138998674
Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 9.1 inches
Kindle Edition
CDN$ 57.95

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am interested in this book. Not being a physical scientist I am very comfortable with qualitative expressions and results.
I suspect my interest comes from my own musings about why FH interests me so much, for which I have little excuse except first, I love the detective sleuthing of clues, and that my own immediate family were such horrors that I hoped to find something in my FH to admire, or at least respect. And I have. Cheers, BT

Patti said...

WOW. I think the same as you. I have wondered at my DRIVE to find out what makes my family tick. My parents were brutal, child abusing people. WHERE did that come from? And I LOVE mysteries. . . I think this book might be incredibly interesting!

Kristin said...

I am eager to read this book - its the kind of book that I was thinking about writing myself. As a family therapist, I see these repeating generational patterns in my office everyday. I've noticed patterns of abandonment over the generations within my own family history - and am encouraged by those members who consciously break them for future generations to come.
Last night, I watched an episode of TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" with Bryan Cranston. As he uncovered his father's family line, he too was amazed by several generations of men who had abandoned their young wives and children - his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather. I've enjoyed watching this show - vicariously witnessing the various celebrities get hooked by the family history bug as their ancestors become real to them. We want - almost NEED to know their stories, as though they are a close friend we've lost touch with. I think of the various Asian cultures who are intimately connected to their ancestors, trekking to their ancestral homes each year to pay homage. There must be some universal energy - something deep within our DNA - that ignites with each discovery.
I write this post from Boston, where I spent the afternoon visiting the Phipps Street Burying Ground and Charlestown's Bunker/Breed's Hill neighborhood where several of my ancestors (and Patti's too!) lived and died in the 17th and 18th centuries . My family thinks I'm a bit strange - but they humor me. They don't get it - but hopefully some day they too will get bitten by their family stories bug.
Now - I must order this book - and book my trip to Quebec and Trois Riviere and Montreal to commune with my French Canadian ancestors this summer!!