Tag Archive: Lee Baker

By all accounts, I think we can say that this year’s event was a smashing success!

The panel discussion was absolutely fantastic: the blog questions were stimulating and the audience questions were excellent as well. We had well over 200 attendees, many of them students. Honestly, with how dynamic the discussion was, we could have gone on for another hour. Our sincere thanks to the panelists, Drs. Baker, Nelson, and Jackson, and to the moderator, Dr. Cheryl Logan. They really made the discussion. It was clear from the audience’s questions that many people have a personal investment in the panel’s discussion, focusing as it did on issues of ancestry and how genetic information is used to contruct identity.

The turnout for Dr. Hawks’s keynote address was amazing: there must have been over 300 people! Dr. Hawks gave a wonderful presentation on Neandertals and, yes, many modern humans DO have Neandertal genes! Thanks to Dr. Hawks for joining us.

Check back soon, as we will be posting the video of the panel discussion and the keynote address on the blog.

We’d like to keep the conversation going, so please post your comments on this year’s event here…

The day has arrived!

So, here we are! We hope you’ll be able to join us for our event today (see details in the previous post). We’d like to thank all those who have submitted questions to our participants via the blog: there are some really interesting ones, and many of them will be addressed today. In fact, our participants will be meeting for lunch today to go over your questions, talk about them, and select several to be answered in the panel discussion.

Hope to see you all there, it should be great!

The event is upon us! So, here is the schedule of events for tomorrow (Wednesday, March 23rd; a map of UNCG’s campus is available here):

1. 3-5pm EUC Auditorium: panel discussion featuring Dr. Alondra Nelson (Columbia University; see her bio here, and check out this post and this post), Dr. Lee Baker (Duke University; see his bio here and this post), and Dr. Fatimah Jackson (UNC-Chapel Hill; see her bio here). Each participant will be asked to speak for 10 minutes about how they see their research intersecting with this year’s theme (“Our genetic past and genomic future”), and then a roundtable discussion and audience questions will follow (moderated by Dr. Cheryl Logan, UNCG; see her bio here). Much of the roundtable will focus on questions submitted beforehand via this blog (see below).

2. 5-630pm EUC Kirkland Room: a reception will follow after the panel discussion. Refreshments will be provided (it’ll be a great spread, trust us…). This will serve as an “open house” of sorts,  allowing the participants to interact directly with the student body and the general public. Students from UNCG’s Student Anthropological Society (SAS) will be available to direct people from the panel discussion to the reception.

3. 7-9pm Meade Auditorium (Sullivan Science Building 101): keynote address by Dr. John Hawks (University of Wisconsin-Madison; see his bio here and check out his weblog here). The title is “Neandertime: Deciphering the Secrets of Ancient Genomes”. The talk will consider the state-of-the-art in Neandertal genomics; it should be fantastic. Q & A will follow the talk.

Some general notes:

  • Given the late afternoon time of the panel discussion, we understand that people may not be able to show up right at three or stay until the end. We encourage people to show up at any time and listen to what our panel has to say.
  • Microphone stands will be available for the audience to ask questions at our panel and after the keynote address. However, you are also encouraged to submit questions beforehand to our participants. You can do so here. Keep in mind that you don’t have to attend to submit a question; we’ll be recording the entire event and will post the file on the blog afterwards…so, you will still be able to hear and see your question being addressed!

We hope to see you all at the event!!

Well, we’re all back from Spring Break here at UNCG…and our event is only 8 days away! Check out event details here, and don’t forget to post questions for our participants here.

Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating interview with Daniel Sharfstein about his book, “The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White.” His book shows just how fluid the idea of race could be, even in the American South, which was pretty rigid about the concept, particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s lots of interesting discourse here, so you should check it out, but here are a couple of things worth quoting:

Q: You note that an early 18th-century governor of South Carolina granted the Gibsons, who clearly had African-American ancestry, permission to stay in his colony because “they are not Negroes nor Slaves.” How did the governor reach such a nebulous conclusion?

Sharfstein: It shows how fluid understandings of race can be. The Gibsons were descended from some of the first free people of color in Virginia, and like many people of color in the early 18th century they left Virginia and moved to North Carolina and then to South Carolina, where there was more available land and the conditions of the frontier made it friendlier to people of color. But when they arrived in South Carolina there was a lot of anxiety about the presence of this large mixed-race family. And it seems that the governor determined that they were skilled tradesmen, that they had owned land in North Carolina and in Virginia and—I think most important—that they owned slaves. So wealth and privilege trumped race. What really mattered is that the Gibsons were planters.

Q: One of your subjects, Stephen Wall, crossed from black to white to black to white again, in the early 20th century. How common was that crossing back and forth?

Sharfstein: My sense is that this happened fairly often. There were many stories of people who, for example, were white at work and black at home. There were plenty of examples of people who moved away from their families to become white and for one reason or another decided to come home. Stephen Wall is interesting in part because at work he was always known as African-American, but eventually, at home everyone thought he was Irish.

Q: As you look at the United States now, would you say the color line is disappearing, or even has disappeared?

Sharfstein: I think the idea that race is blood-borne and grounded in science still has a tremendous amount of power about how we think about ourselves. Even as we understand how much racial categories were really just a function of social pressures and political pressures and economic pressures, we still can easily think about race as a function of swabbing our cheek, looking at our DNA and seeing if we have some percentage of African DNA. I think that race has remained a potent dividing line and political tool, even in what we think of as a post-racial era. What my book really works to do is help us realize just how literally we are all related.

Please use the following form to submit your questions for our Harriet-Elliott participants. We will collect these before the event, present them to our participants, and select a group of questions that our participants will answer during the event.


The Department of Anthropology at UNCG welcomes you to our Harriet-Elliott lecture series blog! We are pleased to announce the 2011 theme, “Our genetic past and genomic future.”

Our purpose in creating this blog is threefold: first, we want to provide students and the public with an archive of current issues pertaining to human genetic evolution and, importantly, its applications to everyday life–from biomedical practice to issues of social identity. Second, we hope you will use this blog as an opportunity to join in on the conversation about these topics. Finally, we will be asking our users—all of you—to supply questions for us to present to our panelists and keynote speaker on the day of the event.  

So, first thing’s first, a little sneak peak on the event…

1. It will be held on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 and is composed of a panel discussion followed by a keynote lecture.

2. Our panel discussion will run from 3-5pm in the main auditorium at the Elliot University Center on UNCG’s campus (see the lecture series main page for information on our panelists). This roundtable-style discussion will focus on the scientific study of human origins, evolution, and variability and the application of this knowledge to everyday life.

3. Our keynote address will run from 7-9pm in the Mead Auditorium in the Sullivan Science Building (Room 101), also on UNCG’s campus. Our keynote speaker is John Hawks, an Associate Professor of biological anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The lecture topic is pending, but will focus on human genetic evolution within the past 30,000 years. Dr. Hawks hosts a well-known paleoanthropology blog himself, and we encourage you to check it out here.

Ok, so now that you know what the event is all about, check back with us as we begin our conversation on, “Our genetic past and genomic future”…