Call for Papers: Popular Genealogy and Historical and Anthropological Research: Motives – Practices – Resources (Rural History Yearbook 2021)

RHN 22/2019 | Call

Thematic volume of the Rural History Yearbook (RHY, Jahrbuch für Geschichte des ländlichen Raumes), publication: 2021

Editors: Georg Fertig (Halle), Sandro Guzzi-Heeb (Lausanne), Elisabeth Timm (Münster)

Closing date for abstract submissions: 15 March 2019


Call for Papers:
Popular Genealogy and Historical and Anthropological Research: Motives – Practices – Resources

Genealogy is on the one hand a widespread leisure activity that brings many people into contact with history. On the other hand, it has long been an important working tool in history, cultural anthropology and social anthropology: to represent a certain type of kinship system or to prosopographically map the history of power. Genealogies are also currently used in empirical research and as analytical perspectives in various disciplines and scientific and political contexts. The recent history of knowledge and science as well as the new history of kinship and the anthropological new kinship studies have developed a different and expanded view of genealogies: they no longer understand them primarily as neutral representations of existing forms of relationship, but rather ask praxeologically how genealogies are produced, mobilised and used. At the same time, new research on the history of knowledge and approaches to the history and philosophy of science have drawn attention to the manifold transfers of genealogical practices, formats and argumentations that have been circulating between the emerging scientific disciplines since the 18th century, fields of social order and practice and the amateur activities of popular genealogy and scholarly genealogy.

Even if the subject of genealogy concerns rural and urban milieus, it nevertheless has a special relationship to rural areas – if only because much genealogical research since the end of the 19th century initially referred to the small, manageable places, but also because in historical times the majority of the genealogically investigated population lived in the countryside. Since the Second World War, the use of genealogies in historical demography, micro-history or family and kinship history has contributed much to new interpretations of social dynamics in rural societies. What is the current situation and what perspectives are opening up for the future? What is the cooperation between university research and non-university genealogy in this field? How are genealogies and genealogical databases in scientific projects treated, financed, handled and, if necessary, published?

In the planned volume, the field of genealogy will be discussed in the following three respects. The fields are deliberately broadly formulated: we welcome contributions that explore historical or current cases of genealogy as well as contributions that apply or (further) develop genealogical work for a specific need.

(1) Motives for Genealogy
Research (above all, of social anthropologists) has shown that there existed, and still exists, a great variety of occasions and interests to practice genealogy. Thus genealogies serve to prove a beginning, an origin or an aim, whether for philosophical, religious or scientific interest. However – with very different objectives in each case – they can also represent arguments for the validity of claims, claims of a legal, economic, territorial, political, social or cultural nature, the legitimation of power, distinction and demarcation, but also emancipation, integration and networking. Furthermore, the structure of nature, culture and society is negotiated in the form of genealogies, including that of the dead and the living or the sacred (supernatural, divine, spiritual) and profane (earthly, human, rational). In addition, genealogies affect social relationships: they create or end them, whether as a reaction to a perceived lack or change, or as an expression of connectedness, they receive a status quo or serve as a plea for departure. All these motives to pursue genealogy were and are applied and pursued by different, individual participants: in religious and dynastic contexts, in the older or newer association genealogy, by the state or against the state, each in popular and scholarly, scientific variants. The question is whether a comparative view reveals systematic differences in these motivations, for example between older and younger people or between different national or religious or denominational strategies. We also ask what transfers there are between these reference spaces (e.g. the cooperation of Mormons with state archives and archives of various religious communities worldwide, the transition from religiously bound to civil status documentation since the 19th century).

(2) Practices of Genealogy
The practices with which genealogy is done are just as diverse as the motives for it. Using various techniques and media, information is conceived, captured, linked, presented and communicated as genealogical data. There are ephemeral and transitory media, such as narratives, but also permanent media such as writings or visualisations, fixed media such as family trees and pedigrees, and mobile media such as databases. Popular and scientific genealogy (whether demographic, sociological, historical or scientific) both produce fixed or changeable connections, open or closed networks, explicit extracts or unwanted omissions, depending on the motif. And finally, genealogical practices are each linked to field-specific agreements on the validity of data and on their disclosure or non-disclosure, as well as the related negotiations. These dynamics are initially closely linked to the emergence of the archive since the formation of statehood in the early modern period and, for some time now, to molecular-genetic technologies in laboratories. The question of systematic differences and common developments also arises with regard to practices. In particular, the upswing in computer genealogy within popular genealogy has posed fundamentally new problems and opportunities for the field in recent years, given the potential of big data, but in part contrary to the boom cycles of social and economic history research. Particular attention should be paid to practices that draw together genealogical data from different media, for example by striving for a combination of the written (e.g. family stories from church records) and the material archive (e.g. DNA tests).

(3) Genealogy as a Resource and the Resources of Genealogy
Anyone who carries out genealogy uses and creates specific knowledge resources each and every time. These knowledge resources can to varying degrees be subject to scientific-disciplinary as well as non-scientific or individual logics. The more recent concept that genealogy is citizen science has replaced older concepts of genealogy as part of the historical auxiliary sciences. Genealogical knowledge is linked to institutions such as the formation of traditions in historical archives, with digitised personal databases or biodatabases that have themselves emerged or are emerging from past or current genealogical practices. Also relevant are techniques and technologies such as transcription, manual or technical copying, imaging procedures, as well as the compilation of information in different directions across breaks in the media (for example, the narrated medical history of the family which the doctor makes as a prior weighting to a medical fact, or the visual similarity of the family as an indication of family connections). In a new way, genealogical know-ledge resources are also decisive for the breakthroughs of deep history or genetic history using the new possibilities of DNA and aDNA research. Thematically, contributions to the institutionalisation and regulation of genealogical data and knowledge production are relevant here, as are contributions to the transfer of genealogical data and knowledge between different media formats, in general to historical-demographic as well as general-historical research, but also examples of older or more recent cooperation between archives, popular genealogy, science and law, e.g. methods of identification of ancestry in law, medicine and the sciences.

We are inviting contributions to this thematic volume of the RHY. It will be published in 2021 and may include some 20 articles. Contributions should refer to one of the above-mentioned fields – motives / practices / resources – with these being understood as analytical considerations, not as substantial categories of the cases dealt with.

The volume aims at an overview of contributions from different disciplines; the introduction by the editorial team will cover the topic from a historical and contemporary perspective across disciplines.

Please send us an abstract of 500 words by 15 March 2019, as well as brief details about yourself. The selection and call for manuscripts will be made by June 2019 (submission deadline: 28 February 2020). Criteria for the selection are: topicality, unpublished empirical research and/or new, overarching, analytical or theoretical perspectives; clear situation in a relevant state of discussion.

For the size and structure of the manuscripts, please refer to the RHY’s notes:

Contributions can be submitted in English or German. Parallel to this open call, we are also personally inviting colleagues who have worked on the topic of the volume.

All submissions, those to the CfP as well as the invited contributions, will be subject to editorial review by the editors and a peer-review procedure with double-blind standard according to the RHY regulations.

While the open access strategy of the RHY is formally to be decided upon in February 2019, we are very confident that the volume will be published immediately in parallel as a printed and online version.


  • Georg Fertig, Institut für Geschichte, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg,
  • Sandro Guzzi-Heeb, Section d’histoire, Université de Lausanne,
  • Elisabeth Timm, Seminar für Volkskunde/Europäische Ethnologie, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster,