In this presentation, Professor Nelson examines the recent use of genetic ancestry testing by the descendants of nearly three hundred enslaved men and women owned by Georgetown University, whom the institution’s Jesuit stewards sold to Southern plantations in 1838 in order to secure its solvency. The case of the GU 272 will be explored as a “reconciliation project”—a social endeavor in which DNA analysis is put to the use of repairing historic injury.
Dr. Nelson is President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and Professor of sociology at Columbia University. A renowned scholar of science, technology, and social inequality, she is the author most recently of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (Beacon Press, 2016). Her publications also include a special issue of the British Journal of Sociology on genealogy and the "GU 272"; Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2011); Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History (Rutgers University Press, 2012); and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life (NYU Press, 2001). In 2002, she edited “Afrofuturism,” an extremely influential special issue of Social Text. Her lecture will also be our major annual departmental lecture for the year.