Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer of Genealogy Wishes - I Wish For A Ph.D. by Karen Rhodes

Welcome to another week of the Summer of Genealogy Wishes! This week we have a great post by Karen Rhodes, from the blog Karen About Genealogy, discussing genealogy education. If you are interested in being involved in this series, send me an email to with your wishes for the genealogy community.

And now I am happy to present:

I Wish For A Ph.D. by Karen Packard Rhodes

Genealogy has not yet achieved serious recognition as an academic discipline of its own – except at Brigham Young University, which offers the only accredited university degree in family history. One would expect no less from a university run by the LDS church, and it is a good start on the profession’s road to becoming a recognized academic discipline.

Boston University’s non-degree program in genealogy is another good start. A non-degree program is a test-bed. How popular the courses are and how well the achievements of the program’s graduates reflect on the University will influence further developments toward a degree program. And when one university offers such a program, and it shows positive results, other universities will sit up and take notice.

Another indication that genealogy is on the road to acceptance is the fact that I competed for an undergraduate independent research grant from the University of North Florida based on a genealogical investigation of the family structure of St. Augustine, Florida, during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821), and received the grant. The judges comments, forwarded to me along with my award letter, indicated that they think my project is an interesting approach.

History has had a top-down, Old Dead White Men approach up until now. Lately the trend is toward a more bottom-up, family and community-oriented approach evidenced in such works as Carolyn Earle Billingsley’s Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier and Aaron Sheehan-Dean’s Why Confederates Fought: Family & Nation in Civil War Virginia (Dr. Sheehan-Dean is a professor of history at the University of North Florida; I’ve taken two courses from him). These individual and family-level invesigatory paths in the discipline of history these days cry out for the methods of genealogy.

I am convinced the day is coming, and some high-powered professional genealogists agree, as evidenced by discussions on the Transitional Genealogist’s Forum. Genealogy already has its own methodology, and as a post-baccalaureate student in history I can tell you that genealogy’s methodology is more rigorous than that of history. This is a great factor in favor of genealogy on its journey to the academy. A rigorous methodology is a must.

Genealogy also has its own theoretical underpinnings, found in such writings as Donald Lines Jacobus’s classic Genealogy as Pastime and Profession and Val D. Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. (Be it admitted here that I have a U.S. bias, but what I am saying applies to genealogy worldwide).

What I wish is that the day would come soon! I am 63 years old and my health is not all that good. I wish there were a program here in Florida which I could access so that I could get a Ph.D. in genealogy.

Copyright 2010 Karen Rhodes.

Karen's bio reads:
I'm a "non-traditional" college student (the term means "older than dirt") walking slowly after a post-baccalaureate degree in history and Spanish. My book, Non-Federal Censuses of Florida, 1784-1945: A Guide to Sources, was published this year by McFarland. I lecture on genealogical topics. I'm a member of the Southern Genealogist's Exchange Society of Jacksonville, FL.

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