Year of Study:
"Out of Asia: A Global History of the Scientific Search for the Origins of Humankind, 1800-1965"
Postgraduate Research Associate and Lecturer in History, Princeton University
Emily Kern is a historian of the modern global geosciences, specializing in the history of human evolution and paleoanthropology. Her work focuses on the relationship between the production of scientific knowledge about the human species and the production of global political power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. (magna cum laude) in diplomatic history in 2012, where she was also an undergraduate research fellow in the Penn Humanities Forum and the Penn Program in Democracy, Constitutionalism, and Citizenship. She completed an M.A. in the history of science at Princeton in 2014, and defended her Ph.D. at Princeton in January 2018.
In her dissertation, titled “Out of Asia: A Global History of the Scientific Search for the Origins of Humankind, 1800-1965,” Kern traces the intellectual and cultural genealogies of the ‘out of Asia’ and ‘out of Africa’ hypotheses of human origins, framing both theories as sites for making knowledge claims about race, identity, human equality, and the history of humankind. From approximately 1800 until 1950, most evolutionists—as well as anatomists, philologists, and other men of science—agreed that the human species began in Asia (with the notable exception of Charles Darwin, who preferred Africa). Since the 1950s, however, essentially all paleoanthropologists have agreed that Homo sapiens evolved on the African continent. In explaining this transition, she tracks the problem of human origins through diverse contexts, including nineteenth century theories of race and language, early twentieth century expeditions for the “missing link” in Java and Mongolia, interwar geological surveys in Kenya and Tanzania, and UNESCO’s postwar quest to define a deracialized, unified, and peaceful humanity. By elucidating the theoretical justifications that guided where expeditions went, how research funds were distributed, and how fragmentary evidence was interpreted in a variety of ways, Kern's work offers a radically new interpretation of the history of paleoanthropology in the past two centuries.
Area of Interest:
History of Technology