19 Uhr
Salon des ehem. Palais Dürckheim, Cranachstraße 47, Weimar

The Diagrammatics of Human Evolution Vortrag von Marianne Sommer

Throughout the scientific engagement with the evolutionary history and kinship of humans, diverse kinds of tools for diagrammatic visualization have been developed. In the talk, I focus on the tree diagram. Since Ernst Haeckel’s figurative tree that has been inscribed into our cultural memory, the tree structure has conveyed organismic and human descent and diversity in a great variety of forms. In interaction with evolutionary tree-building in biology, the technology has also become paradigmatic in other scientific branches such as linguistics. This connection between biology and linguistics consists up to the present in human population genetics, which will be at the center of my interest. In the second half of the 20th century, genetic, molecular, mathematical and computational tools have been developed to objectively analyse the blood samples collected from all over the world and to visualize the resulting human population history and kinship. But despite the highly specialized knowledge that informs the trees in human population genetics, due to the icon’s cultural history, they seem readily understandable. Indeed, long before the assimilation of the tree structure in evolutionary biology and anthropology, it was used in the Middle Ages and especially the Early Modern Period to depict genealogies in order to decide matters of succession and to legitimate a family’s or person’s status and power through the demonstration of noble descent or blood. One might therefore inquire after the similarities and differences between the genealogical and anthropological trees. For example: Has the tree in anthropology, too, been an instrument of social stratification? Has it produced a noble descent for particular nations and ‘races’? And if so, what are the problems associated with the persistence of this iconography in present-day science?