Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology, University of Toronto

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Harvard University
Genetic Nationalism: Ethnic Mythmaking and Human Biology Research in Iran, Turkey, and Israel

How are nationalist ideologies indebted to scientific concepts of heredity? Why do the structuring assumptions and interpretations of human genetics research seem to be embedded in nationalist understandings of history? While these issues are currently hotly debated with regard to the Israeli state and the question of a Jewish biology, I argue that a comparative regional perspective is necessary to understand the political stakes involved in academic research and how these stakes affect the working environment of scientists. My project offers a historical juxtaposition of the human biology research conducted in Israel alongside that of Iran and Turkey, focusing primarily on the decades of nation-state formation and consolidation between 1930 and 1980. As a trained geneticist, I contribute to the field of national identity studies by applying discourse analysis to the rarefied rhetoric of scientific publications. Taking my analytical approach from the history of science, I collectively evaluate the published research output of Iranian, Turkish, and Israeli academics not only with regard to terminology, but also to the mechanics of their studies. I observe the selection of study populations, the labeling and manipulation of samples, and most importantly, the underlying assumptions which inevitably shape both the initial questions that drive the study and the ultimate interpretation of the results. I further situate these researchers within their global intellectual and social networks, using their personal papers and correspondence, to understand how the participation of Middle Eastern researchers within an international scientific community has integrated globally standardized terms and concepts of human biology with localized understandings of heredity, identity, and nation. Ultimately, the study offers transformative implications for Middle Eastern studies, the history and current practice of biological science, and theories of political ethnic nationalism.

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