March 16, 2012


By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Anthropologist Eric Gable will give the talk, "Jefferson's Ardor: Sex, Race, and the Invention of Cultural Relativism," Wednesday, March 21, at 7 p.m. in the Forum of the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell.

The talk, which is free and open to the public, is part of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies' spring lecture series, "Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: An American Origin Story, Interdisciplinarily Considered." It is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

The lecture will explore Jefferson's ideas about race and culture and how these relate to American ideals of egalitarianism and present forms of inequality. Gable will use material from his fieldwork in Indonesia, West Africa and Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson.

A professor of anthropology at University of Mary Washington, Gable holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Virginia. His teaching and research interests include political anthropology, West Africa and Indonesia.

His book, The New History in an Old Museum, written in collaboration with Richard Handler, was published by Duke University Press in 1997. His book, Anthropology and Egalitarianism, was published recently by Indiana University Press and is an artful and accessible introduction to key themes in cultural anthropology.

Although the assertion remains controversial centuries after it was originally made public, most contemporary historians concur that the preponderance of evidence suggests that Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings had seven children over the course of a 38-year involvement. In 1998, DNA tests supported the allegation, yet the story remains the subject of debate.

The Griot series, which seeks to examine various narratives about the Hemings/Jefferson affair in terms of their historical and contemporary resonances and significances, continues March 28 with the talk, "Jefferson and Genetics: The DNA Tests," by genealogist Helen F.M. Leary at 7 p.m. in the Forum. Leary will discuss the particulars of the Jefferson DNA tests with a focus on the interweaving of heritage, genetics and genealogy.

The series continues in April with a bus trip to Monticello on April 14; limited seating is available by contacting Rebecca Willoughby at griot@bucknell.edu. The series culminates with the performance/intermedia piece, "Sally Hemings: An Artistic Montage," on April 18.

Contact: Division of Communications

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