How does ancestry affect our opportunities, our rights, and our sense of who we are?
Everyone comes from somewhere. We carry our ancestries in our DNA, genealogy, family stories, and more. What do these forms of evidence tell us about who we are, as a species, as a social group, or as an individual? This course looks at ancestry from a range of perspectives: biology, anthropology, genealogy, history, law, and memory—from the origins of human populations to the origins of you. Whether or not you are coming into this course with a prior interest in genealogy or family history, you will leave it with a sharper sense of the role played by ancestry in the terms we routinely use to describe ourselves—as well as in policies and practices shaping everything from citizenship law to college admissions. We will pay close attention to different kinds of evidence—particularly genetic and genealogical—the kinds of questions they answer or raise, and what happens when they collide. We will also explore in depth the implications of genetic ancestry testing for concepts of race, ethnicity, and nationality. By its end, the course should make you better able to uncover implicit assumptions in qualitative and quantitative data alike, and to assess a claim’s value and scope. Most of all, it will prompt you to reconsider your ideas about ancestry, lineage, and inheritance, and enrich how you think about identity in your life outside the classroom and after this semester, at Harvard and beyond.