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Dahlem Humanities Center Lecture with François Weil

(École des hautes études en sciences sociales) 

Genealogy and the Search for Identity in American History

This talk will discuss the transformations of what I call "the genealogical interest" in American culture since the colonial period. Genealogy is today an extraordinarily popular and democratic pastime in the United States. Yet, historians take it seldom seriously. I want to argue instead that the cultural history of genealogy offers significant insights on larger issues of democracy, identity, and social justice in American history. I will address the transformation of genealogy from an activity essentially rooted in Republicanism during the antebellum period into an aristocratic, highly racialized and exclusive practice of ancestors’ worship in the 1870-1950 period, to the current democratic, multicultural passion for one’s family tree. I will therefore analyze the cultural, intellectual, and political basis of the search and the struggle for a personal past.


The lecture was held in English.

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