New Books in the Arts & Sciences:
Celebrating Recent Work by Nara B. Milanich
Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father
By: Nara B. Milanich
“In this rigorous and beautifully researched volume, Milanich considers the tension between social and biological definitions of fatherhood, and shows how much we still have to learn about what constitutes a father.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
For most of human history, the notion that paternity was uncertain appeared to be an immutable law of nature. The unknown father provided entertaining plotlines from Shakespeare to the Victorian novelists and lay at the heart of inheritance and child support disputes. But in the 1920s new scientific advances promised to solve the mystery of paternity once and for all. The stakes were high: fatherhood has always been a public relationship as well as a private one. It confers not only patrimony and legitimacy but also a name, nationality, and identity.
The new science of paternity, with methods such as blood typing, fingerprinting, and facial analysis, would bring clarity to the conundrum of fatherhood—or so it appeared. Suddenly, it would be possible to establish family relationships, expose adulterous affairs, locate errant fathers, unravel baby mix-ups, and discover one’s true race and ethnicity. Tracing the scientific quest for the father up to the present, with the advent of seemingly foolproof DNA analysis, Nara Milanich shows that the effort to establish biological truth has not ended the quest for the father. Rather, scientific certainty has revealed the fundamentally social, cultural, and political nature of paternity. As Paternity shows, in the age of modern genetics the answer to the question “Who’s your father?” remains as complicated as ever.
About the Author:
Nara B. Milanich, Professor of History, joined the faculty of Barnard in 2004. Her scholarly interests include modern Latin America, Chile, and the comparative histories of family, gender, childhood, reproduction, law, and social inequality. Professor Milanich teaches courses ranging from the Modern Latin American History survey to a comparative seminar on the Global Politics of Reproduction. She works closely with PhD students in Latin American History at Columbia. Professor Milanich has also taught in and directed the Masters in Latin American Studies (MARSLAC) based in the Institute for Latin American Studies. Her research and scholarship have been supported by the Fulbright Commission for Educational Exchange, the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Unesco, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Professor Milanich writes and publishes in both Spanish and English.
About the Speakers:
Dorothy Y. Ko, professor of history, joined the faculty of Barnard in 2001. In addition to her teaching duties for the department of history, she is affiliated with the Barnard Women's. Gender and Sexuality Studies department. Prior to coming to Barnard, she taught at the University of California at San Diego and at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her teaching at Barnard includes such courses as "Gender and Power in China," "Body Histories: The Case of Footbinding," "Chinese Cultural History," "Fashion,"and "Feminisms in China." Professor Ko is a cultural historian who specializes in gender and body in early modern China. Her current research focuses on women's artistry and skills in textiles, which constitute an alternative knowledge system to male-centered textual scholarship. Her teaching interests also include the history of women and gender in East Asia; feminist theories; and visual and material cultures. Professor Ko's research and scholarship have been supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and the American Council for Learned Socieities. Her book Cinderella's Sisters was awarded the 2006 Joan Kelly Memorial Prize of the American Historical Association for the best work in women's history and/or feminist theory.