Department of History, Barnard College
Nara Milanich, Professor of History, joined the faculty of Barnard in 2004. Her scholarly interests include modern Latin America, Chile, and the comparative histories of family, gender, childhood, reproduction, law, and social inequality.
Professor Milanich teaches courses ranging from the Modern Latin American History survey to a comparative seminar on the Global Politics of Reproduction. She works closely with PhD students in Latin American History at Columbia. Professor Milanich has also taught in and directed the Masters in Latin American Studies (MARSLAC) based in the Institute for Latin American Studies.
Her research and scholarship have been supported by the Fulbright Commission for Educational Exchange, the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Unesco, and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Professor Milanich writes and publishes in both Spanish and English.
For most of human history, the notion that paternity was uncertain appeared to be an immutable law of nature. The unknown father provided entertaining plotlines from Shakespeare to the Victorian novelists and lay at the heart of inheritance and child support disputes. But in the 1920s new scientific advances promised to solve the mystery of paternity once and for all. The stakes were high: fatherhood has always been a public relationship as well as a private one. It confers not only patrimony and legitimacy but also a name, nationality, and identity.
The new science of paternity, with methods such as blood typing, fingerprinting, and facial analysis, would bring clarity to the conundrum of fatherhood—or so it appeared. Suddenly, it would be possible to establish family relationships, expose adulterous affairs, locate errant fathers, unravel baby mix-ups, and discover one’s true race and ethnicity. Tracing the scientific quest for the father up to the present, with the advent of seemingly foolproof DNA analysis, Nara Milanich shows that the effort to establish biological truth has not ended the quest for the father. Rather, scientific certainty has revealed the fundamentally social, cultural, and political nature of paternity. As Paternity shows, in the age of modern genetics the answer to the question “Who’s your father?” remains as complicated as ever.
Latin American history; comparative history of family and kinship; childhood; gender and reproduction; law; social inequality
Seeking Asylum: History, Politics, and the Search for Justice at the Mexico-US Border
Family, Race, and Nation
Inequalities: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Latin American History and Society
Origin Stories: Race, Genealogy and Citizenship in the Modern World
Global Politics of Reproduction: Culture, History, Politics
Perspectives on Power in Modern Latin American History
Reproducing Inequalities: Families in Latin American History and Society
Women and Gender in Latin American History
Modern Latin America
Power, Law, and the State in Latin America
Populations and Bodies in Latin American History
Historiography Seminar for First-Year Students
Recent Awards and Fellowships
Columbia University, Heyman Center Society of Fellows, 2015-16
ACLS Burkhardt Fellowship, 2014-15
Grace Abbott Book Award from the Society for the History of Children and Youth (2009) for Children of Fate.
Professor Milanich serves on the Editorial Board of the Hispanic American Historical Review and Historia (Pontificia Univ. Católica de Chile). She is a founding member of REHIAL, Red de Estudios de Historia de las Infancias en América Latina.
She is cofounder with Prof. Alyshia Gálvez of the Dream Act Faculty Alliance, a network of NYC-area faculty that supports undocumented students. She volunteers with Dilley Pro Bono Project, which provides access to legal counsel for women & children refugees and has served as an expert witness and interpreter in political asylum cases.
Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father (Harvard University Press, 2019)
The Chile Reader: History, Culture, Politics (co-edited with Elizabeth Quay Hutchison, Thomas Miller Klubock, and Peter Winn) (Duke University Press, 2013)
Children of Fate: Childhood, Class, and the State in Chile, 1850-1930 (Duke University Press, 2009)
Spanish edition in progress: Los hijos del azar. Infancia, clase y estado en Chile. 1850-1930. Translated by Ana María Velasco.
Selected Recent Articles/Book Chapters
“Daddy Issues: ‘Responsible Paternity’ as Public Policy in Latin America,” World Policy Journal 34: 3, Fall 2017, 8-14.
“The Politics of Family Law in Twentieth-Century Chile and Latin America,” Law and History Review 33:4, November 2015, 767-802.
“Latin American Childhoods and the Concept of Modernity,” Routledge History of Children in the Western World, Paula Fass, ed, Routledge, 2012.
“Women, Children, and Domestic Labor in Nineteenth-Century Chile,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91:1, February 2011, 29-62.
“Degrees of Bondage: Children’s Tutelary Servitude in Modern Latin America,” in Child Slaves in the Modern World, vol 2, Joseph Miller, Gwyn Campbell, and Sue Miers, eds. Ohio State University Press, 2011.
“Family Matters: The Historiography of Latin American Families,” in Oxford Handbook of Latin American History, José Moya, ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, 382-406.
“Women, Gender, and Family in Latin America, 1800-2000,” in A Companion to Latin American History, Thomas Holloway, ed., Blackwell, 2008, 461-479.
“Whither Family History? A Road Map from Latin America,” American Historical Review 112:2, April 2007, 439-458.
Compassion for immigrant children can help. But it isn’t enough. The Washington Post, 6/28/18.
No Way Home, NACLA Report on the Americas Blog, 6/19/18, republished in Dissent.
Dispatches from ‘Baby Jail’ in South Texas, NACLA Report on the Americas 49:2, Special issue: Resisting Trump in Latino U.S./Latin America, 6/17, 159-64.
Nations have separated children from parents before. It never ends well. The Washington Post, 3/17/17.
These are the people Donald Trump wants to keep out of the United States. The Washington Post, 9/26/16.
Blood Will Sell. The paternity testing industry is big business, but what it markets is a pernicious sense of doubt. 6/18/16. Medium.com.
In the News
This spring break, professor of history Nara Milanich and students provided pro bono help in Dilley, Texas, for her course, Seeking Asylum, a credited, experiential learning experience that gives students the opportunity to explore the political crisis surrounding asylum-seeking families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
This special Mother’s Day edition shines a light on the government’s practice of incarcerating refugee mothers and children and the experiences of the women themselves.
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