Race and Biology
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Level: Undergraduate
Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: Bachelor's Program for Adults and Transfer Students
Department: Social Sciences
Course Number: NANT 3213
Course Format: Seminar
Location: Online
Permission Required: No
  • Anthropology
  • Ethnicity & Race
What do we learn about ourselves through genetics and genealogy? How does DNA connect with what we know about our identities, family ancestry and cultural heritage? This course explores the intersection between biology, culture and history. In particular, we examine the evolving scientific and social classifications of race and human difference. Students will learn how certain racial distinctions emerged historically, such as: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and mulatto, quadroon, octoroon or creole. They will critically examine the ways in which we dissect and quantify lineage – why we speak about our backgrounds, bloodlines, ethnic, racial and national make-ups in terms of percentages, fractions or measurable terms, why we use cultural tools, such as the census to “count” heritage, why we operated by “the one drop rule.” Using anthropological, sociological, historical, biological and literary works, we will also explore the “social narratives” or “social life of DNA,” the various ways in which genetics is used culturally and racially - as evidence to make legal claims or seek social justice, to anticipate wellness or disease, to determine social membership, pedigree or purity, or to re-construct identities. We will analyze the recent expansion, commercialization, and popularization of genetic analysis, most prominently exhibited in increased public DNA testing, as well as, in the widely-watched televisions programs, such as the American documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are? Examining these trends, students will investigate the ways in which genetics is used to constitute family history, construct individual and group identities, and create community.
Course Open to: Degree Students