Explanation of Ancestry Estimation in Forensic Anthropology Textbooks Lessons for the Undergraduate Classroom

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Amelia R. Hubbard


The way we teach about race and racism can have profound impacts on undergraduate learners, both positive and negative. Textbooks represent a space in which hidden curriculum about race can cement misconceptions and biologically essentialist thinking, leading to the ongoing support of practices that harm racially minoritized populations. In this study, I critically examine five popular introductory level, undergraduate, forensic anthropology textbooks, with attention to chapters on ancestry estimation, and offer recommendations for supplementary or alternative content. Specific coverage of core concepts related to race and ancestry estimation practices in forensic anthropology are evaluated, as well as the order of presentation and consistency of key messages. Though each chapter focuses on distinct examples and approaches, none cover all of the concepts or present a consistent message about ancestry estimation as it pertains to the biological race concept. In particular, messaging within each chapter demonstrates some ambiguity in the distinction between race and ancestry, while also presenting a narrative through which racial typology practices are delineated as “in the past” and distinct from current ancestry estimation practices. These results demonstrate a need, at the undergraduate level, for a more explicit discussion of the biological race myth in lieu of traditional approaches that focus on demonstrating the practicality and validity of such methods. Finally, detailed presentations of ancestry estimation 

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