African Diaspora, Genetics and Genealogy
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African Diaspora and the Atlantic
World Research Circle


Africa, African Diaspora, Genetics and Genealogy
A symposium to be held March 12

The symposium “Africa, African Diaspora, Genetics and Genealogy" is the capstone to a year-long seminar devoted to an exploration of the place of the new science of DNA testing in recent African diaspora scholarly and popular culture. There are particularly two quite significant developments, one of which is entirely new: (1) the application of discoveries in the science of genetics to the historically vexed scholarly issue of where specifically in Africa the ancestors of particular diaspora Africans might have come from, and (2) the surprise of a popular African American interest in the issue. Both of these—the latter, especially—have led to a cottage industry of DNA testing companies targeted at African Americans promising to scientifically help them trace their roots. So in addition to scholarly publications, there are now popular video series explaining the DNA testing process itself and its possibilities, as well as tracing the genealogies of notable African Americans, for education and entertainment. One example is the Takeaway Media Production’s famous Motherland series (Motherland: A Genetic Journey and Motherland: Moving On) broadcast by the BBC in 2003. Revealingly, the series is employed as a promotion by a testing company named, without irony, Roots For Real: Your Ancestry Discovered. Its website, listing costs both of film and tests, earnestly advises visitors to “[c]hoose the BBC film for a pioneering example of our DNA service.” But perhaps the most well-known series is African American Lives, made by the Harvard professor of African American Studies, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and first broadcast by the PBS in 2006; a sequel followed in 2008. Gates also recently launched a Washington Post-supported online magazine,, linked to a genetic testing company,

The Symposium will examine the impacts of recent advances in Genetics and DNA testing on understandings of the African diaspora. It will include presentations from prominent geneticists and anthropologists followed by a question and answer session as well as a more loosely formatted conversation between participants of assorted academic backgrounds and levels, including four participants who had their roots “traced” this year.

Keynote Speakers | Program

Main Sponsors/Hosts
African Diaspora and the Atlantic World Research Circle

African Studies Program and The Center for the Humanities

The Red Gym
On Wisconsin Room
716 Langdon Street, Madison, Wisconsin, 53703, USA

Attendance is free for everyone but please email if you plan to attend. Registration deadline is March 5, 2010

Conference Coordinator
Johanna Lanner-Cusin

Contact Us
For more information please contact Johanna Lanner-Cusin by email at