Dr. Joseph L. Graves Lecture


Smashing Agassiz's Boulder: Debunking Biological Conceptions of Race Beyond the Millennium

January 11, 2018

Lecture   -   4:30 PM – 5:30 PM   -   Haldeman Center, Rm 041

Dinner/Reception   -   5:45 - 7 PM   -   Kemeny Hall, Math Lounge

Free and Open to the Public

“In the late nineteenth century, Charles Darwin proposed that all humans share a common ancestor and that evolution likely began in Africa. He expected controversy over his revolutionary idea, even suggesting that Harvard professor Louis Agassiz might “throw a boulder” at him. Today, 157 years after On the Origin of Species was published, evolutionary biology has “smashed” Agassiz’s boulder and confirmed that modern humans can all trace their ancestry to Africa. Joseph Graves will discuss accepted scientific facts on human ancestry and consider why these facts are difficult to communicate in our society.”

Dr. Joseph Graves, Jr. is Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Biological Sciences in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering at North Carolina A&T State University and UNC Greensboro. He received his Ph.D. in Environmental, Evolutionary and Systematic Biology from Wayne State University in 1988, making him the first African American evolutionary biologist in the United States.  He is a Fellow of the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a prestigious honor bestowed by his peers, and the recipient of numerous awards and research grants, including from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Graves was also selected as one of the “Sensational Sixty” for the 60-year commemoration of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award, and he is the winner of the 2017 Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) Innovation Award.

His primary research focuses on the genomics of adaptation, specifically relevant to the biology of aging and response of bacteria to novel nanomaterials. He has also written extensively on biological and social concepts of race in humans, and has published over eighty papers and book chapters in this area. Dr. Graves has served as a member of the external advisory board for the National Human Genome Center at Howard University. In January 2006, he became a member of the “New Genetics and the African Slave Trade,” a working group of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, chaired by professors Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Hammonds. He has served as the chair of the Senior Advisory Board for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) at Duke University, and is currently a member of the executive boards of the NSF Science and Technology Center: Biocomputa-tional Evolution in Action (BEACON) and National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) Southeast Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (SENIC). Dr. Graves has appeared in eight documentary films, including the acclaimed series, Race: The Power of an Illusion, and he has been interviewed frequently concerning these issues, including on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 program and in the New York Times. His books on race and biology are entitled: The Emperor's New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium and The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America. He was also the Associate Editor for the Second Edition of the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, and, since 2007, he has served on the editorial board of Evolution: Education and Outreach. Dr. Graves has been an active participant in the struggle to protect and improve the teaching of science, particularly evolutionary biology in the public schools, and he is a leader both in promoting student diversity in science careers and aiding underserved youth in Greensboro via the YMCA chess program.

Sponsored by African and African American Studies, the E.E. Just Program, and School House.