Alternate Roots: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Genealogy Media by Christine Scodari

alternate roots


Saturday, Jul 28, 2018

Alternate Roots highlights how popular media cultivates genealogy but buries its cultural context.

In recent years, the media has attributed the surge of people eagerly studying family trees to the aging of baby boomers, a sense of mortality, a proliferation of internet genealogy sites, and a
growing pride in ethnicity. New genealogy-themed television series and internet-driven genetic ancestry testing services have also flourished, capitalizing on this new popularity and on the mapping of the human genome. But what's really happening here, and what does this mean for sometimes volatile conceptions of race and ethnicity? In Alternate Roots, Christine Scodari engages with genealogical texts and practices, such as the classic television miniseries Roots, DNA testing for genetic ancestry, Ancestry.com, and genealogy-related television series, including those shows hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. She lays out how family historians canunderstand intersections and historical and ongoing relations of power related to the ethnicity, race, class, and/or gender of their ancestors as well as to members of other groups. Perspectives on hybridity and intersectionality make connections not only between and among identities, but also between local findings and broader contexts that might, given only cursory attention, seem tangential to chronicling a family history. Given the genealogy-related media institutions, tools, texts, practices, and technologies currently
available, Scodari's study probes the viability of a critical genealogy based upon race, ethnicity, and intersectional identities. She delves into the implications of adoption, orientation, and migration while also investigating her own Italian and Italian American ancestry, examining the racial, ethnic experiences of her forebears and positioning them within larger contexts. Filling gaps in the research on genealogical media in relation to race and ethnicity, Scodari mobilizes cultural studies, media studies, and her own genealogical practices in a critical pursuit to interrogate key issues bound up in the creation of family history.

HOW POPULAR MEDIA CULTIVATES GENEALOGY BUT BURIES ITS CULTURAL CONTEXT
 
Praise for Alternate Roots
 
“People have always been interested in who they are and where they come from, and thus genealogical study holds great fascination. In her short and remarkable book, Christine Scodari places the historic journey of her own Italian family into a larger context, shedding light on genealogical theory; personal, social, and immigration history; religious practices; and gender, class, and race issues. She also unlocks the secrets behind the popularity of celebrity genealogy shows and explores ways in which the social hierarchies that begin in one’s own family reflect past generations and as well as modern times. Her book will appeal to anyone wanting to better understand connections between family and culture.”

—Kathy Merlock Jackson, editor of 
Walt Disney: Conversations Conversations with Roald Dahl , and  The Journal of American Culture  and vice president/president-elect of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association
 
In recent years, the media has attributed the increasing numbers of people producing family trees to the aging of baby boomers, a sense of mortality, a proliferation of Internet genealogy sites, and a growing pride in ethnicity. A spate of new genealogy-themed television series and Internet-driven genetic ancestry testing services have now emerged, capitalizing on the mapping of the human genome in 2003. This genealogical trend poses a need for critical analysis, particularly along lines of race and ethnicity.

In contextual ways, Christine Scodari lays out how family historians can understand intersections involving race and/or ethnicity within families. Through engagement in and with genealogical texts and practices, such as the classic television series 
Roots , Ancestry.com , and Henry Louis Gates’ documentaries, Scodari also explains how to decipher their import to historical and ongoing relations of power beyond the family. Perspectives on hybridity and intersectionality gesture toward making connections not only between and among identities, but also between localized findings and broader contexts that might, given only cursory attention, seem tangential to chronicling a family history.

Given current tools, texts, practices, cultural contexts, and technologies, Scodari’s study determines whether a critical genealogy around race, ethnicity, and intersectional identities is viable. She delves into the implications of adoption, orientation, and migration while also investigating her own genealogy, examining the racial, ethnic experiences of her forebears and positioning them within larger, cross-cultural contexts.


There is little research on genealogical media in relation to race and ethnicity. Thus, Scodari blends cultural studies, critical media studies, and her own genealogy as a critical pursuit to interrogate issues bound up in the nuts-and-bolts of engaging in family history.
 
 
Christine Scodari  is professor at Florida Atlantic University and author of  Serial Monogamy: Soap Opera, Lifespan, and the Gendered Politics of Fantasy . She has published many articles, including an award-winner on genealogy television in the  Journal of American Culture  and a chapter in the edited volume  Aging, Media, and Culture .
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