Genetics and the History of Latin America

Andrés Reséndez and Brian M. Kemp
Published in
Duke University Press, Volume 85 (2005), 283-298

Given that we live in the much-vaunted era of the “genomics revolution,” one cannot help but wonder whether those long strands of DNA will ever wash up on the historian’s lonely shore. Sure, we are all aware of one or two high-profile instances when genetic evidence was able to change a historical interpretation. The case that most readily comes to mind is the Y-chromosome DNA test conducted by a retired pathologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1998—intended to settle the question of whether Thomas Jefferson had fathered a child by his slave Sally Hemings. Among other things, the ensuing furor and soul-searching produced a spate of works re-examining slavery, miscegenation, and the connections between the private and public spheres in early America.