Friday, June 29, 2012

Professionals and amateurs, together forever

When genealogists get talking about professionalism, we often tend to compare genealogy unfavorably to well-established professions like doctors and lawyers. I think that better comparison groups are drivers, writers, and people involved in child care. (And this applies whether you define "professional" as "doing it for money" or as "doing it to high standards.")

Each of these three fields is divided between:

(1) a small group of experienced and knowledgeable professionals, and

(2) a large and constantly replenished group of amateurs. Some of the amateurs are quite competent. Others may actually be dangerous to themselves, their neighbors, and their respective professionals -- such as the guy who cut me off yesterday, or the amateur writer who omitted the comma from "Let's eat, grandma."

Within each occupational group, amateurs and professionals interact constantly and have an ill-defined and sometimes uncomfortable relationship.

In genealogy and driving, there are some standards-based ways to identify professionals based on performance. You have to have a certain class license to drive a semi, and you have to be OKd by the proper body to use the initials CG or AG. But the tension remains.

Just having standards and being able to enforce them in some ways doesn't erase the need to continuously negotiate the nebulous boundaries between amateur and professional. There will always be more amateurs, and some of them will look askance at those who do genealogy for pay, or who insist on reference notes. I don't see any long-term "solution," just ongoing discussion, education, and maneuvering.

Even the medical profession, which over the last century achieved strong control over who can practice medicine, is frittering away its franchise by what I (as the opinionated child of a physician) see as a combination of expense, inconvenience, arrogance, and industrial-style production-line health care. These days my wife and I  get our flu shots from a pharmacist, who unlike an M.D. is readily accessible at short notice. We also often get our everyday medical advice from family members in auxiliary health professions or from WebMD or the Berkeley Wellness Letter.

For professionals there is no permanent victory, only eternal vigilance -- and eternal flexibility.

Harold Henderson, "Professionals and amateurs, together forever," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Anonymous said...

Well said, Harold!

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Yes, a very useful and meaningful discussion. THANKS! ;-)