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Paternity

Paternity

The Elusive Quest for the Father

Nara B. Milanich

ISBN 9780674980686

Publication date: 06/10/2019

“In this rigorous and beautifully researched volume, Milanich considers the tension between social and biological definitions of fatherhood, and shows how much we still have to learn about what constitutes a father.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

For most of human history, the notion that paternity was uncertain appeared to be an immutable law of nature. The unknown father provided entertaining plotlines from Shakespeare to the Victorian novelists and lay at the heart of inheritance and child support disputes. But in the 1920s new scientific advances promised to solve the mystery of paternity once and for all. The stakes were high: fatherhood has always been a public relationship as well as a private one. It confers not only patrimony and legitimacy but also a name, nationality, and identity.

The new science of paternity, with methods such as blood typing, fingerprinting, and facial analysis, would bring clarity to the conundrum of fatherhood—or so it appeared. Suddenly, it would be possible to establish family relationships, expose adulterous affairs, locate errant fathers, unravel baby mix-ups, and discover one’s true race and ethnicity. Tracing the scientific quest for the father up to the present, with the advent of seemingly foolproof DNA analysis, Nara Milanich shows that the effort to establish biological truth has not ended the quest for the father. Rather, scientific certainty has revealed the fundamentally social, cultural, and political nature of paternity. As Paternity shows, in the age of modern genetics the answer to the question “Who’s your father?” remains as complicated as ever.

Praise

  • Solidly researched and enlightening.

    —Margaret Talbot, New Yorker

Author

  • Nara B. Milanich is Professor of History at Barnard College, Columbia University, where she teaches courses on the history of family, gender, and childhood. She has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a fellow at the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University. Her previous book, Children of Fate, won the Grace Abbott Book Award from the Society for the History of Children and Youth.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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