Monday, March 15, 2010

Intercultural Communication - Part 1

My first class in Hamburg is a week long workshop on Intercultural Communication which began today.  Prior to taking the class today, I had been thinking about what it means to be an American, how I view the world and how the world, though primarily Germany, views me.  I had not thought that this class would have me thinking so very much about genealogy.  Surprisingly, intercultural communication plays a huge role in genealogy and history and as family historians, we should be thinking about it when looking at our ancestors.

What is culture?  According to the forth definition on it is the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group."  In short, it is how people see the world and why they act the way they do.  One subculture would be genealogists.  The genealogists I have met all seem to have a deep reverence for family, enjoy meeting new people, are curious, enjoy history and are dedicated, among other things.

According to the iceberg model of cultural elements our professor gave us, basic things such as food, clothing, language and behaviors are easy to see, but they are only the tip, the small portion above the water.  Other things like values, beliefs, assumptions, perceptions and ways of communicating are below the surface, harder to see and understand.  An excellent image of the iceberg model is shown here.

Why is this of use to us as we search for our ancestors?  We need to remember that our ancestors lived n different cultures than we do today.  This is particularly true if you find an event you disagree with or do not like.  How many genealogists have had family members not give them the whole story because of how they judge an event in the past?  Before we judge, it is tremendously important to remember that how they acted was a product of their time and culture.  Imagine what you ancestors would think of some of the things you do today!  By studying the culture of a time and place, we can better understand the motivations of our ancestors and have a better overall picture of their lives.

Tomorrow I will discuss how my time here is making me look at stereotypes and the effect they may have on genealogical research.

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