Ordinary people, meaningful pasts – Negotiating narratives in public pedagogical spaces of family history research

Abstract: This dissertation examines three family history research experiences as public pedagogical spaces, analysing the narratives presented and participants’ negotiations with these. In the context of enhanced digitalisation and rapidly developing technologies, disturbances in the form of pandemics, hackers, and wars remind us of the instability of the present, raising existential questions and reinforcing the desire to anchor oneself in the past. Despite this growing interest, academic research focusing on family history is sparse. This dissertation project is unique in its focus on a Swedish context, the selection of three specific family history experiences as case studies, and its use of a public pedagogical perspective examining relational learning beyond formal institutions intrinsically woven within the fabric of society.This dissertation uses three case studies as reflections of more extensive experiences of the phenomenon of interest in family history and the past. These include the Swedish family history television series Allt för Sverige’s previous contestants’ narratives, the results from four genetic ancestry testing companies, and participants’ narratives from two Swedish non-formal family history research courses. Analysing these further within this compilation dissertation engages a conceptual framework consisting of Rüsen’s historical narrative typology, Hall’s decoding/encoding model, and Ellsworth’s use of Public Pedagogy as relational and facilitating transitional spaces for knowledge in the making. An emphasis on the process of pedagogy, rather than the product of knowledge, is prominent in this hermeneutic phenomenological study and reflects the concept of Bildung as the cultivation of the whole person.The findings reveal a more complex picture of family historians, history, and family history research experiences than what is often portrayed. Participants deem not only the effervescent or exceptional findings and activities valuable, but the everyday banal is perceived as significant and contributes to the development of understanding and meaning. Moreover, regardless of the physical site of the experience, the infused pedagogical intent is illustrated through participants’ interactions and negotiations. In a field surrounded by rock walls their ancestor built, discovering a relative had only five spoons in a testament, or examining a deep map to trace the movements of ancestors all provide opportunities to juxtapose, confirm, and/or challenge previous knowledge with new information and experiences, reiterating the extensive reach of public pedagogy.Despite narratives presenting conflicting depictions of the past, participants of this study demonstrate agency in their negotiations, resulting in enhanced empathy and enriched historical consciousness. By exploring these family history research experiences as pedagogical spaces, this dissertation provides a more nuanced understanding of the broader field of public pedagogy and contributes new insights from Swedish and participants’ perspectives to the growing body of research on family history. It highlights the potential and benefits of examining the small, seemingly insignificant, everyday items and events. Moreover, it contributes a more comprehensive illustration of the seepage/pervasiveness of public pedagogy as complex and relational.