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Sebastián Gil-Riaño – Stolen Evidence: Indigenous Children and Bio-historical narratives of the Western Hemisphere during the Cold War

May 31, 2023 @ 12:15 pm - 1:45 pm  |  Humanities 1, Room 210


The talk is sponsored by the Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine

This talk examines how anthropologists and human biologists used abducted Indigenous children in South America as sources of evidence for a variety of bio-historical research projects during the Cold War. From 1930 to 1970, human scientists studying the Aché — a traditionally nomadic hunter-gatherer group in Paraguay — used evidence derived from measuring, bleeding, and observing children in the service of research projects concerned with reconstructing global human migrations in the Western hemisphere. Through studies of Aché children and families, scientists like the French naturalist Jehan Albert Vellard, the U.S. human geneticist Carleton Gajdusek, and the French structural anthropologists Pierre and Helen Clastres discerned ancient patterns of migration by considering the diffusion of cultural and linguistic traits, the process of genetic drift in populations, and the immunological effects of European conquest. Yet many of the Aché children used in these studies had been abducted and sold as servants to neighboring ranchers. By highlighting the use of stolen Indigenous children as research objects in Cold War human diversity research, my talk uncovers the enduring and violent colonial structures that made this knowledge possible as well as the ethical and legal protocols and forms of Indigenous resistance that emerged in response.

Prof. Gil RimanoSebastián Gil-Riaño is an Assistant Professor of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennyslvania. Born in Colombia and raised in Canada, he is a historian of science who studies transnational scientific conceptions of race, culture, and indigeneity in the twentieth century. His first book, The Remnants of Race Science: UNESCO and Economic Development in the Global South will be published by Columbia University Press on August 31st, 2023.






The Center for Cultural Studies hosts a weekly Wednesday colloquium featuring work by faculty and visitors. We gather at 12:00 PM, with presentations beginning at 12:15 PM.

RSVP by 11 AM on the day of the colloquium, and you will receive the Zoom link and password at 11:30 AM.

Staff assistance is provided by The Humanities Institute.


May 31, 2023
12:15 pm - 1:45 pm


Humanities 1, Room 210
1156 high st
Santa cruz, CA 95060 United States
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