Humans classify and categorize everything from types of writing instruments to breeds of animals. Marjorie Hlava in her Taxobook states “you could even say that taxonomies and thesauri exist to further the objective of organizing knowledge.” It seems it is in our nature as humans to try and classify things.
One example of human classification is genealogy charts. When I look at my family’s genealogy chart, I see that my mom’s father was German, his parents were German and I am assuming the rest are German, since they came to this country from Germany during World War I. My mom’s mother was Hispanic, her parents both being a mix of Spanish and Mexican. Then, my father’s mother is unknown, but his father was Spanish and English. If you go back another tier, my great-grandmother was Spanish, her parents from Spain. In other words, I am an American Mutt, even though I identify as a New Mexican Hispanic.
Determining one’s lineage can be tricky, unless you’re purebred, like racehorses or an AKC certified dog. Classifying animals is another way we have developed to organize things. Purebred animals come with what is known as a breed registry. These map out an animal’s lineage similar to a genealogy chart, so that you know the German Shepherd Dog you’re buying is not mixed with anything other than a GSD. This can be important since different breeds have different temperaments and health issues. While most people just want a loving companion that fits with their lifestyle, there are those who like to breed and show dogs. The same goes for horses. In last week’s post, Melody discussed the excitement of the Kentucky Derby; it is racing season after all.
Breeding horses is even more complicated, especially if you’re an outsider like me. I will not pretend that I know anything about animal husbandry beyond the basics, or training and racing horses for that matter. What I do know are taxonomies, and we will get to that in a minute. Nyquist, the winner of the 2016 Kentucky Derby, is an American Thoroughbred, and his parents are Uncle Mo and Seeking Gabrielle. His pedigree can be viewed in its entirety going back 5 generations. Let’s just say it’s a lot less complicated then my genealogy chart.
Breeders of horses, dogs, plants, etc. keep good taxonomical charts. They understand the bloodlines and can determine which two mates would make good offspring. Whether you’re looking for the next racehorse or a new color and fragrance of a rose, the hierarchies in taxonomies can help with the complexities.
Taxonomies allow you to group like things together. They can be simple or complex, depending on your needs. A complex taxonomy can show you which horses bred together would produce a quality race horse. On the other hand, a simple taxonomy can sort out all Shepherd dogs from Chihuahuas. You could then sort the Shepherd dogs into more specific breads such as German, Belgian, Australian, etc. Once you have your group of only German Shepherd Dogs, you can narrow that group further by sorting out all the white, black, or sable German Shepherds from the black and tan ones. If you wanted to make more sable colored German Shepherds, you would breed a black and a sable, or a sable and a sable together. However, variants can occur and this is where the more complex husbandry taxonomies come into play.
For humans trying to determine their ancestry, they can have a test done that looks at the mitochondrial DNA to determine their ancestry on their mothers’ sides. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child, where as a father’s Y-DNA is only passed on from male to male. The US Census Bureau recognized that Americans are found increasingly to be multiracial. Some, in the case of Hispanics, identify with culture rather than with the color of their skin. Hispanics and Latinos come in all shapes and sizes and not one checkbox fits all, so the census allows us to check more than one box if we so choose.
As for Nyquist, being a purebred race horse, his ancestry is so meticulously catalogued that he doesn’t get to choose a self-identifying census box. He could however leverage it to win the Stanley Cup instead of the Triple Crown, or at least his namesake can. These are just a few examples of how humans have tried to organize and classify a variety of things.
Jennifer Crawford, Marketing Librarian
Access Innovations, Inc.