Stemma vs. Genealogy

In A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology, by Peter Beal, among other odd entries, is a definition of stemma (plural stemmata). As described in this book, it is applied to editing and textual criticism but could just as well be applied to the analysis of a font or typeface’s history. Likewise, stemma is the more appropriate word for that philosophical maundering on morals. The etymology of the word does have the connotation of ‘ancestry’ or ‘pedigree,’ but those terms are most appropriately used for living beings, not concepts, or physical artifacts. The Dictionary also has a two-page discussion of genealogy, which makes the distinction clear. There are no cross-references between the two terms so the compiler of the Dictionary noted the lack of a connection.

The Dictionary has quite a few interesting articles, many of which would be of interest to a genealogist studying primary source material in its original form. Descriptions of such material abound here, as well as of the offices, which created them. Other terms, such as those appropriate to historical analysis of literature (philosophy) and artistic creations (typefaces) also abound.

Peter Beal. A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology, 1450–2000. New York: Oxford University Press. 2008.

This post originally appeared in slightly different form on 25 September 2011 on the Seattle Book Scouts’ Blog as “Stemma – Stemmata vs. Genealogy.”

© 2011 N. P. Maling – Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy Research