The New York Times

The Historians Versus the Genealogists

THE FIRST LOOK AT THE PAST AND SAY, “THIS MATTERS.” THE SECOND SAY, “THIS MATTERS TO ME.” WE NEED BOTH PERSPECTIVES.

At a time when history has never been so widely and blissfully ignored, and not just by our president, millions of Americans are busy spitting into DNA-collection tubes, scrutinizing old newspapers and tracing their family history back as far as they can via the website Ancestry and other services. Historians like me tend to scoff at these attempts. Who cares if you’ve just found out you’re related to George Washington’s aunt? So what?

But that was before

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