This talk investigates the visual culture of genetic tree diagrams and gene migration maps, which have dramatically influenced scientific and popular ideas about where modern humans first evolved and how they spread across the globe. Focusing on the use of genetic maps by Turkish and Iranian scientists (often working in collaboration with European and American geneticists), Burton examines how the imagery of genetic geography conceptualizes the Middle East’s physical territory both as a historical “crossroads” of human migration and as the birthplace of distinct civilizations and gene sequences. Turkish and Iranian genetic migration maps foreground the modern political borders of their respective states and emphasize migration pathways to, not merely through, their territories. These features reflect local nationalist traditions of cartography drawing from early 20th-century racial maps, as well as more recent geopolitical anxieties, alternately blurring and sharpening the boundaries between Europe and Asia.
Elise Burton, Assistant Professor at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto.
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