Blog Post

The Whale's Hand

For some Native Americans, the whale signals the importance of finding one's own sound and, thereby, recapturing one's uniqueness, history, and memory. That is the whale's "medicine," and this animal is said to carry the history of all of us.

The whale gives me permission then to delve into history including and maybe even especially family history, overcoming as I do the various modern and postmodern ways of living that suggest the past's irrelevance. Whale medicine is sound therapy. I hope in my blog to explore what exactly that might mean. Whale people are clairaudient; they hear because they are in tune with various rhythms including their own.

As I begin to talk about my various projects, most centrally genealogical work, I would like to think critically about ways in which users of today's technology can, by engaging the past through archival materials of all sorts made accessible to them as never before, construct and also experience a sense of time and space that is dynamic and/or engaging of the whole person rather than flattened, plasticized, and self-alienating.

Some exciting work--the Somebody Signed My Name project--in which I'm presently involved is focused on the digitization of the names (and other identifying information) of thousands of black American slaves, whose names were recorded during the Civil War. One goal of this project is to make this life-changing information free and accessible to the public via the Internet. Though this task is challenging and tedious, a more difficult issue is how to invigorate interest in a subject--American Slavery--and in a people--African Americans--whose history is consistently cast as overindulgent and counterproductive. In truth, I am hoping that the publication of this information will inspire a movement not merely of America's slave past but a movement that demands that people of all walks of life enjoy the freedom of being in charge of their own temporality.

I know from personal experience--fifteen or more years of family history research--that such work transforms one's consciousness, and for this reason genealogy perhaps has the greatest potential to alter the way in which people think about time and about work including scholarly work. Unlike the various disciplines within the American academy, genealogy entices the researcher to submit to a different sense of time, which is also an act of giving over one's sense of power or at least one's former perception of power. Genealogical work is assisted by unseen collaborators! (I trust that this idea of submission to the unseen or the unknown will contribute in very interesting ways to ideas of "storming tenure" and "storming scholarship," which others have raised on this site since the collaborators I mention do not place themselves on a seven-year plan!)

Needless to say, I am very excited about viewing all of the possibilities that exist in the wedding of technologies and genealogy. I hope finally to play some small part in the acceptance of genealogy on par with established academic disciplines. Such work would be my own medicine, my own offering.


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