Cover of a new essay collection edited by journalism professor Randy Boswell for the Association for Canadian Studies

Journalism professor Randy Boswell edited and contributed two articles to a newly published collection of essays on the exploding interest in genealogy in Canada and beyond.

Published by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, the latest edition of Canadian Issues/Thèmes Canadiens — titled “The Personal Past: History, Identity and the Genealogical Impulse” — features Boswell’s introductory essay, “The Search for Self and the Discovery of Story,” as well as commemorative essay he contributed in honour of the late Canadian historian Desmond Morton: “History is Another Word for Experience: A Tribute to Desmond Morton (1937-2019).”

The collection includes essays from Métis author and Indigenous rights lawyer Jean Teillet, the great-grandniece of 19th-century Métis leader Louis Riel, Prof. Leighann Neilson of Carleton’s Sprott School of Business and public historian Tanya Evans, Director of the Centre for Applied History at Macquarie University in Australia and a visiting researcher at Carleton in 2016.

In his introductory essay, Boswell retells a story from his family’s history and how genealogical research added a new twist to an old tale about his grandfather’s glass eye: “Such is the nature of family history research, a tapestry constructed with a few precious patches of truth but interwoven with incidental narratives and embroidered with mythic tales handed down from aunts, uncles, close cousins and distant kin.”

Boswell explains in the essay how the popularity of genealogy is being fueled by a dizzying array of technological and other developments in recent decades, including “the mass digitization of historical documents, an aging population with the passion and leisure time to seek out their ancestral roots, the rise of social history, the networking and knowledge-sharing power of social media, the commercialization of DNA technology, the proliferation and sustained growth of businesses built around genealogical research and the proven popularity of TV shows, magazines and countless online sites dedicated to the exploration of family history.”

In his tribute to Morton, a towering figure in the discipline of Canadian history, Boswell observed that honouring him is “especially à propos in this edition of Canadian Issues, where we examine the intersection of genealogy — the personal past — and Canadian history writ large. In Professor Morton’s case, we can only praise fortune that the unique circumstances of his ancestry and upbringing — then his life choices, his service as a soldier, his education, his activism and his scholarship — conspired to produce a body of work that has immeasurably enriched Canadians’ understanding of their country, and will continue to do so for generations to come.”

Monday, July 20, 2020 in ,
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