walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Riffing on Henry Adams

In _Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres_, (available via google books), Henry Adams on page 14 or thereabouts writes:

"The aristocratic Norman names still survive in part, and if we look up their origin here we shall generally find them in villages so remote and insignificant that their place can hardly be found on any ordinary map; but the common people had no surnames, and cannot be traced, although for every noble whose name or blood survive in England or in Normandy, we must reckon hundreds of peasants. Since the generation which followed William to England in 1066, we can reckon twenty-eight or thirty from father to son, and, if you care to figure up the sum, you will find that you had about two hundred and fifty million arithmetical ancestors living in the middle of the eleventh century. The whole population of England and northern France may then have numbered five million, but if it were fifty it would not much affect the certainty that, if you have any English blood at all, you have also Norman. If we could go back and live again in all our two hundred and fifty million arithmetical ancestors of the eleventh century, we should find ourselves doing many surprising things, but among the rest we should pretty certainly be ploughing up most of the fields of the Cotentin and Calvados; going to mass in every parish church in Normandy; rendering military service to every lord, spiritual or temporal, in all this region; and helping to build the Abbey Church at Mont-Saint-Michel. From the roof of the Cathedral of Coutances over yonder, one may look away over the hills and woods, the farms and fields of Normandy, and so familiar, so homelike are they, one can almost take oath that in this, or the other, or in all, one knew life once and has never so fully known it since."

Adams waxes nostalgic for before we were in such a backwater. Really, you can read it. I refuse to reproduce it further.

A small portion of this passage is quoted in Shoumatoff's _Mountain of Names_ on page 234.

In Rohde, Olson, Chang (2004) in Nature, as quoted in Nature's press release at:


"No matter the languages we speak or the colour of our skin, we share ancestors with those who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who laboured to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu."

The language is recognizably the same.

The argument presented from Adams, through Murchie/Shoumatoff/Rohde et al, Brian Pears and others, is the same: random mating, exponential growth of ancestors limited by actual population size at any given point in history, handwave to claim that there are no isolated populations. The politics is similar as well: we are all (closely) related. But just underneath that warm fuzzy feeling of, hey, how closely related we are is that disturbing attempt to assimilate to one group the history and accomplishments of another group, through demonstration that all groups are connected (by a "close" common ancestor or ancestors).

That's not quite so warm and fuzzy. That's colonizing. Altho I'm now seriously waiting for someone to produce a similar quote from some Chinese, Egyptian or Vedic source, just to show that Adams _wasn't_ the first person to produce this argument but rather one in a line so ancient you could "in God's memory" trace it back to some chatty concestors of us and the chimps, hundreds of thousands of generations ago. After all, it's becoming increasingly clear that the first-cousin-or-not argument has been going on for all of recorded history (at least), with essentially the same arguments rallied on all possible sides.
Tags: genealogy
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