Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History


Genetics and the Unsettled Past

Our genetic markers have come to be regarded as portals to the past. Analysis of these markers is increasingly used to tell the story of human migration; to investigate and judge issues of social membership and kinship; to rewrite history and collective memory; to right past wrongs and to arbitrate legal claims and human rights controversies; and to open new thinking about health and well-being. At the same time, in many societies genetic evidence is being called upon to perform a kind of racially charged cultural work: to repair the racial past and to transform scholarly and popular opinion about the "nature" of identity in the present. Genetics and the Unsettled Past considers the alignment of genetic science with commercial genealogy, with legal and forensic developments, and with pharmaceutical innovation to examine how these trends lend renewed authority to biological understandings of race and history. This unique collection brings together scholars from a wide range of disciplines to explore the emerging and often contested connections among race, DNA, and history, and the sweeping implications of genetics for society today.


a timely, serious, and yet accessible critique of what one editor refers to as “the social life of DNA”... The editors are to be commended not only for their own contributions, but in the selection of essays and the organization of the collection. Genetics and the Unsettled Past is a work that deserves a wide reading... a valuable source for students, scholars, and for those interested in the social implications of recent advances in the science of human genetics.

--Contemporary Sociology

Intellectually and analytically strong, this volume comes together in a fluid melding of many different voices and perspectives that, when taken together, provide the richest and best collection of scholarship on the topic.

--Troy Duster, author of Backdoor to Eugenics

This sterling and absolutely needed collection probes the political and historical meanings of DNA, shaping our understanding of human connections and ourselves. Arguing for a multidisciplinary approach to these contentious concerns, this book should be widely read and discussed… a masterpiece.

--Susan M. Reverby, Wellesley College

Few collections have so successfully straddled the divide between biology and humanities in relation to race. This work will be widely read and cited. 

--Jay S. Kaufman, McGill University