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Deborah A. Bolnick

Associate ProfessorPh.D., University of California, Davis

Deborah A. Bolnick



Genomic anthropology, ancient DNA studies, human biological variation, race, population genetics, Native American prehistory, anthropology of science


Bolnick's research focuses on human genetic variation and how it is shaped by culture, language, history, and geography. She uses both ancient and modern DNA to reconstruct Native American prehistory. She is also interested in genetic ancestry testing and how it affects our understanding of race and ethnicity. On the subject of genetic ancestry testing, she has been widely interviewed by the popular press, including the PBS News Hour, BBC World Radio, and the Wall Street Journal. Bolnick's research was featured in a 2007 UT homepage feature story, Deep Roots?


T C 357 • Race And Science

42420 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 1100am-1230pm SAC 5.118

Course Number: TC 357

Title: Race and Science 

Instructor: Deborah Bolnick, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology 

Description: This course will examine the scientific study of race.  We will explore the ways that race has been conceptualized over time, and we will evaluate how race is constructed and understood in various disciplines, including anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, medicine, and forensics.  In this class, we will trace the history of racial science and scientific racism, considering the origins, applications, and social impact of race science (especially in connection with European colonialism, segregation and the civil rights movement in the United States, and the eugenics movement in both the United States and Nazi Germany).  We will also draw on recent scientific research to evaluate the nature and significance of human biological diversity.  As part of this unit, students will gain hands-on experience analyzing human skeletal variation and human genetic diversity (including some analyses of their own DNA).  We will also discuss popular documentaries as we consider what genetic data tell us about ancestry and race.  Finally, we will explore a number of recent scientific controversies – the use of race in medical diagnosis and treatment, claims of IQ differences between racial groups, possible racial differences in athletic aptitude, and the intersection of race, crime, and forensics.  In each case, we will carefully and critically evaluate the scientific evidence, and consider how the data have been interpreted in scientific journals and by the media.  By the end of this course, students will understand the history of race science and the patterns of biological variation that exist today.  They will also learn to critically evaluate scientific research and news stories about race and science, and they will develop effective strategies for discussing and conveying the complex nature of race.

Course Requirements:

(1) Four short papers (30%). 

Each student will write a 1-2 page position statement describing his or her views about race at the beginning and end of the semester (5% each). 

Each student will also write two 4-6 page papers analyzing material presented in readings or films (10% each).

(2) Class participation and helping to lead discussion (30%).

(3) Research Project (35%). 

Each student will choose a relevant topic to explore in greater depth over the course of the semester. A 2 page research proposal and bibliography (5%) will be due in the second month of class. Students will submit the first 7-8 pages of their research papers for instructor and peer feedback partway through the semester (10%). They will then revise what they have written and complete their papers. The final 15 page research paper (20%) will be due at the end of the semester.

(4) Research Presentation (5%). Each student will give a 10 minute oral presentation on the subject of their research paper. This course will carry the writing and independent inquiry flags. 

Biography: Deborah Bolnick received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 2005.  She studies the patterns of human genetic variation and how they are shaped by culture, history, language, and geography.  She is also interested in how genetic ancestry tests influence and are influenced by contemporary American understandings of race, ethnicity, and identity.



Courses Taught

Anthropological Genetics (Fall/Spring 2010, Spring 2009, Fall 2007, Spring 2006)

Human Variation (Fall 2009, Spring 2007, Fall 2005)

Human/Primate Evolutionary Genetics (Spring 2010)

Race and Science (Fall 2010)

Constructions of Race in Biology and Physical Anthropology (Fall 2006)

Recent Publications

(See webpage for complete list of publications)

Bolnick DA. In press. Continuity and change in anthropological perspectives on migration: insights from molecular anthropology. In: Cabana GS, Clark JJ, editors. Current Developments in the Anthropological Study of Past Human Migration.

Bolnick, DA. 2009. Comment on “Color, race, and genomic ancestry in Brazil: dialogues between anthropology and genetics” by Ricardo Santos et al. Current Anthropology 50:802-803.

Lee SS, Bolnick DA, Duster T, Ossorio P, TallBear K. 2009. The illusive gold standard in genetic ancestry testing. Science 325:38-39.

Veilleux CC, Bolnick DA. 2009. Opsin gene polymorphism predicts trichromacy in a cathemeral lemur. American Journal of Primatology 71:86-90.

Bolnick DA. 2008. Individual ancestry inference and the reification of race as a biological phenomenon. In: Koenig B, Lee S, Richardson S, editors. Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. pp 70-88.

Halverson MS, Bolnick DA. 2008. An ancient DNA test of a founder effect in Native American ABO blood group frequencies. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 137:342-347.

Bolnick DA, Fullwiley D, Marks J, Reverby SM, Kahn J, TallBear K, Reardon J, Cooper RS, Duster T, Fujimura JH, Kaufman JS, Morning A, Nelson A, Ossorio P. 2008. Response to “The legitimacy of genetic ancestry tests” by Tony Frudakis. Science 319:1039-1040.  

Bolnick DA, Fullwiley D, Duster T, Cooper RS, Fujimura JH, Kahn J, Kaufman JS, Marks J, Morning A, Nelson A, Ossorio P, Reardon J, Reverby SM, TallBear K. 2007. The science and business of genetic ancestry testing. Science 318:399-400.  

Bolnick DA, Smith DG. 2007. Migration and social structure among the Hopewell: evidence from ancient DNA. American Antiquity 72:627-644.

Kemp BM, Malhi RS, McDonough J, Bolnick DA, Eshleman JA, Rickards O, Martinez-Labarga C, Johnson JR, Lorenz JG, Dixon EJ, Fifield TE, Heaton TH, Worl R, Smith DG. 2007. Genetic analysis of early Holocene skeletal remains from Alaska and implications for the peopling of the Americas. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 132:605-621.

Bolnick DA, Bolnick DI, Smith DG. 2006. Asymmetric male and female genetic histories among Native Americans from eastern North America. Molecular Biology and Evolution 23:2161-2174.

Curriculum Vitae

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