A Global History of the Paternity Test

Thursday 27 September, 2012
12pm, $0

Barnard, BCRW
3009 Broadway, 101 Barnard Hall

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For centuries, Western legal tradition relied on the assumption “pater semper incertus est” (“the father is always uncertain”). But starting in the early twentieth century, scientists began a quest for a biological marker of paternity that could unambiguously link a child to his or her progenitor. Prior to the advent of DNA testing, scientists from around the world experimented with fingerprints, dental evidence, ear shape, and blood typing. Nara Milanich, associate professor of history at Barnard College, examines the link between the history of the paternity test and the history of gender, family, and changing ideas about kinship. Although today paternity can be determined with over 99 percent accuracy, biological certainty by no means displaces legal and social constructions of family. In the age of modern biomedicine, the definition of parentage is arguably as “uncertain” as ever.
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