This seminar is part of an exciting UCLA-directed initiative sponsored by the Mellon Foundation to effect a fundamental transformation in the way the humanities shapes its current and future disciplinary identities. While other disciplines have established clear and robust methodologies in examining historical questions, the use of genetics in comparison is a relatively recent development borne out of the biotechnology boom of the last 50 years. Despite this it has already proved to be a useful tool to both supplement the findings of the more traditional disciplines as well as generate its own unique insights and hypotheses.
However the current state of play sees a somewhat mildly antagonistic ‘us versus them' mentality, with the social and biological sciences at the forefront of this divide. It is only when questions are examined within a multi-disciplinary framework with investigators from various areas working together in a cohesive manner that the full potential of this novel mode of historical enquiry can be fully realized. To achieve this level of synergy researchers need at least a sound understanding of the other disciplines involved in order to engage in useful dialogue. Therefore this seminar aims to bring together geneticists, evolutionary biologists and biomathematicians with anthropologists, linguists, archaeologists, and historians to begin exploring the intersections of genetic research and historical inquiry.
The focus of the seminar shifted in its second year from the primarily theoretical background of the first year to examining more practical applications such as the origin of the Etruscans, the peopling of the Americas, and the link between heredity and last names in England. In addition, there was an extended workshop session examining the often-neglected yet vital region of Africa, a format which will continue in the following years. With some of the most eminent individuals in the field from around the world presenting cutting-edge research to a diverse audience of faculty and graduate students from across many disciplines, we are very excited by the by the possibilities opened by these seminars.
Soraya de Chadarevian