Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Milanech, "Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father"

Harvard University Press has released Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father (June 2019), by  Nara B. Milamich (Barnard College). A description from the Press:
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.
A few blurbs:
“‘Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe.’ DNA testing has all but destroyed the uncertainty that has attended paternity for millennia. Milanich has written a fascinating history of the ways societies have coped with anxiety about paternity, and how that anxiety has helped construct notions of fatherhood, masculinity, race, and family.”—Annette Gordon-Reed

“This splendid work shows how the development and use of paternity testing over several centuries determined individuals’ fates. For millions of people, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ was not simply an idle question, but often a matter of life or death.”—Sonya Michel
More information is available here.

-- Karen Tani

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