Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father

Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father

by Nara B. Milanich
Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father

Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father

by Nara B. Milanich


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“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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674980686
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 06/10/2019
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the 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.

Table of Contents

Prologue Who's Your Daddy? 1

1 Looking for the Father 11

2 The Charlatan and the Oscillophore 32

3 Blood Work 54

4 City of Strangers 89

5 Bodies of Evidence 116

6 Jewish Fathers, Aryan Genealogies 149

7 To the White Husband a Black Baby 179

8 Citizen Fathers and Paper Sons 208

Epilogue Paternity in the Age of DNA 246

Abbreviations 269

Notes 271

Acknowledgments 335

Index 339

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