The Center for Global Humanities presents 'Why DNA Doesn’t Tell Us Who We Are' on Feb. 28

A man holds an infant
The UNE Center for Global Humanities will welcome paternity scholar Nara Milanich for the lecture on Monday, Feb. 28, at 6 p.m. at Innovation Hall at UNE’s Portland Campus.

For millennia, each newborn’s mother was a known certainty. Present at birth, she was plain to see. But the identity of each child’s father could only be surmised or taken on faith, based on the credibility of the mother and her known male acquaintances. And so, the principle “pater semper incertus est” (the father is always uncertain) seemed an immutable law of nature. The advent of modern paternity science would eventually remove much of this uncertainty, of course, but not to the extent that most people probably assume. While it’s true that today’s science can identify a child’s biological father, the social, cultural, and political nature of paternity continues to challenge the notion of paternal certainty. Who’s your daddy? Even in the age of DNA, the answer remains uncertain.

So will argue paternity scholar Nara Milanich when the University of New England Center for Global Humanities presents a lecture titled “Why DNA Doesn’t Tell Us Who We Are” on Monday, Feb. 28, at 6 p.m. at Innovation Hall at UNE’s Portland Campus.

A professor of Latin American History at Barnard College, Nara Milanich’s scholarship and teaching focus on the history of kinship, childhood, reproduction, and gender. Her most recent book, “Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father” (Harvard, 2019), was a finalist for the PROSE Award of the Association of American Publishers and received coverage in the New YorkerThe AtlanticSalonScientific AmericanNPR, and Time. She is currently a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library.

In this lecture, Milanich will trace the history of paternal uncertainty and the technologies employed through the years to unravel its mystery. She will explain how paternity has always been a public relationship as well as a private one with implications affecting child support, inheritance, citizenship status, and more. 

This second lecture of 2022 for the Center for Global Humanities will be followed by two more this spring. Lectures at the Center are always free, open to the public, and streamed live online. For more information and to watch the event, please visit:

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