Darnell has played a central role in my personal and professional development, both through the concept of genealogy she developed, and through my own genealogical connections to her. Tracing the emergence and continuing impact of what she called the Americanist tradition, Darnell defined genealogy as “an individual’s unique articulation, through teachers and close colleagues, to areas of theoretical, methodological, or ethnographic specialization.” These genealogies connect and operate in multiple ways; they “constitute both a diachronic lineage through the history of the discipline and the synchronic structure of relations of a network of colleagues.” They do not determine researchers’ choice of topics or analyses, but “produce consistent products, characterized by family resemblances rather than by isomorphisms” and provide contexts where “[i]ndividual idiosyncrasies coexist with cultural patterns” (Darnell 2001, 25).
The simultaneous universality and diversity of these multigenerational relationships, along with the connection between networks and support, evoke kinship—a connection Darnell also makes explicitly (Darnell 2001, xix). I link this line of thinking with Margaret Bruchac’s call for “the need for reciprocal relations, especially with ancestors.” The idea of kinship can speak not only to our relationship as scholars to those who came before us, but to those who are our peers, and those who come after us.
As a graduate student, I would habitually ask new acquaintances at conferences or workshops who their supervisor was, and who their supervisor’s supervisor was. This was not an attempt to prejudge their work or their theoretical or methodological orientation; rather, it was my attempt to form connections with people through common disciplinary ancestors and shared networks (a process similar, I came to realize later, to our practice in Indigenous communities of asking where a person was from and who their grandparents are).
Just as our families—whether families of origin or chosen—do not determine who we are or how we act, our intellectual genealogies and kinship networks do not dictate the ways we think or the work we do. And as we all know, academic connections are not necessarily free of the challenges and constraints that we face in our personal relationships.
At the same time, I have been fortunate to have a series of mentors—Marjorie Halpin at UBC, Toby Morantz at McGill, Michael Asch at the University of Victoria and Darnell at the University of Western Ontario—who shared not only the assumption that knowledge of anthropology’s theoretical and institutional history was foundational to undergraduate and graduate training, but also the idea that we have much to learn from a historiographical analysis of those representations of history.
Thinking about the histories of anthropology, and the ways those histories have been written, is “a means of constructing contemporary professional identities upon continuity with the past” (Darnell 2001, 1) and of situating our research in the wider discipline. These influential teachers and researchers also shared the conviction that mentorship in a variety of forms—including introducing their students to members of their own genealogical networks—is a key responsibility of more senior scholars. Now that I have an opportunity to teach and to work with graduate students, I feel an obligation both to pass on to them the knowledge that has been shared with me and to offer them paths into these networks, as one way to enact the reciprocal relations that Bruchac identifies.
Read another piece in this series.
Darnell, Regna. 2001. Invisible Genealogies: A History of Americanist Anthropology. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.