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Identity in the Age of Ancestral DNA

Open your mind to new concepts of personal identity as you look at the scientific and cultural dimensions of DNA ancestry and what it can reveal about us.
Identity in the Age of Ancestral DNA is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 36.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Little Tiresome I felt like this offering was mis-titled. It should have been “Racial Identity in the Age of Ancestral DNA.” My wife and I both have taken DNA test to trace our ancestry and thus had an interest in this subject. The course had very little to do with the actual DNA test themselves, but issues around them. What the test might uncover that changes a person’s narrative, family issues the test can bring up, legal issues, privacy issues, designer babies, etc. She did a reasonable job covering those concerns. While my ancestry is predominately northern European with some Italian thrown in for good measure, my wife is 99% Ashkenazi Jew. I bring this up as she has more than few of our own stories about discrimination. Plus some of the schools she taught in had more than a few poor black students. You will probably not find a more empathic person than my wife. The presenter seems to always circle back to race issues, mainly the issues between blacks and whites in this country. And yes this is a racial country with an extremely poor history of racial equity. However, I am not sure what this had to do DNA ancestry identity. I was more than a little bothered by this recurring theme, but my wife was deeply so. We like to pick a Wondrium course to watch together, but she was more than ready to quit this one part way through as she found the presenter harping on this theme bothersome. I talked her into to watching all twelve units, but I do not think she really engaged after that point. Again not a big fan of Wondrium’s talking head presentations. Also the video phone calls to other contributors was bothersome and not always the best quality. Spend the money and bring them into the studio. Not my favorite offering.
Date published: 2024-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from loved this course I had my DNA completed and by taking this course I wanted to learn more about the DNA process. Dr Foeman is an excellent professor. She was engaging and knowledgeable about the subject matter. I did not have any preconceived ideas of my DNA so it was interesting to see how others were impacted by their results. I found Dr. Foeman's explanation of individual's reaction to receiving their DNA ancestry fascinating. I was not aware of some of the studies being conducted and how this technology could be used for positive as well as a negative of 'designer babies', but that is a threat of all technology. I was intrigued with the artwork of the photographer McTavish. This course opened my eyes to a lot of various ideas and information related to ancestry. I learned I had 1% AA ancestry from northern Africa and wondered if this was why I loved black gospel. Truly a fascinating and enlightening course.
Date published: 2023-06-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Title is a Little Misleading I purchased this course in hopes of learning more about the science of ancestral DNA testing. I felt this course was directed more toward the social consequences of testing and how racism factors in. All important stuff for some I'm sure but not what I hoped to receive.
Date published: 2023-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining It was a very entertaining watch and informative. My only true complaint is personal. Please stop perpetuating the "Latinx" title. Latinos/Latinas are not "Latinx". Latinx was a title made up by non Spanish speaking kids from Latin American backgrounds wanting a soap box to jump on the woke bandwagon.
Date published: 2023-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned about many things I liked the course very much, even more than I had expected. The teacher is excellent. I loved the variety of ways we can look at identity.
Date published: 2023-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Teacher There is so much good information in this course and it is wonderfully presented. I love the teacher's voice. The information made me look at DNA tests and genealogy in a new way. I will be watching this course again and again to learn everything.
Date published: 2022-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course I watched this course shortly after it was released. It is simply one of the most informative and practical courses on this platform. The issues raised are real and have impact. However, Dr. Foeman touched on the ethical and sensitive nature of DNA testing. Her curiosity and creativity in projects described are simply contagious!
Date published: 2022-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great topics that make you think I listened to this course through this past month. I really enjoyed it. The scope is somewhat wide which makes it interesting. The biggest take away for me was considering the balance between privacy or ownership of your own DNA compared to value of sharing widely for the greater good. I thought I knew my answer, but now I have to think more. I also enjoyed hearing about the DNA project, specifically the reactions. I would enjoy a deeper dive into some of the thoughts and emotions that the test results stirred.
Date published: 2022-05-01
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Who do you think you are? In the 12 fascinating lessons of Identity in the Age of Ancestral DNA, Anita Foeman, PhD, Professor of Communication and Media, and founder and primary investigator of the DNA Discussion Project at West Chester University, takes us behind the scenes to examine what really happens when individuals receive their personal DNA ancestry results. By learning about their individual and family reactions, we learn more about our own identity narratives as well.


Anita Foeman

There’s nothing more intriguing than unlocking the mysteries of our history, heritage, and lineage and learning who we are and what we’re made of.


West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Anita Foeman is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication and Media at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She received a PhD in Communication Studies from Temple University and was one of the first in her field to publish on diversity in the workplace. Her research examines identity based on ancestry DNA data, and her work has received coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other outlets. She coauthored the book Who Am I? Identity in the Age of Consumer DNA Testing, which received a Most Promising New Textbook Award from the Textbook & Academic Authors Association.

By This Professor

How to Talk about Race
Identity in the Age of Ancestral DNA
Identity in the Age of Ancestral DNA


Your Ancestry, Your Identity

01: Your Ancestry, Your Identity

Do your genes determine (or even define) your essential nature and identity? Or do you build your own identity, ignoring or actively working against your genetic makeup? Explore the essentialist and constructed philosophies and discover how you might incorporate aspects of both into your own view of personal identity.

31 min
What Genetic Testing Brings to Ancestry

02: What Genetic Testing Brings to Ancestry

Labs that provide DNA ancestry information use hundreds of thousands of ancestry-information markers (AIMs)—the mutations in our DNA that help trace the paths of our ancestors. Learn about the AIMs that relate to major identifiable lineages, as well as what can be gleaned from mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA.

29 min
Sensitive Approaches to Ancestry Results

03: Sensitive Approaches to Ancestry Results

There are many social issues affecting an individual’s emotional response to receiving DNA ancestry results—old attitudes about race and interracial relationships, adoption, children born out of wedlock, and more. Explore how the reciprocal engagement method can help families face unexpected ancestry results and get some tips to consider before ordering your own test.

28 min
When Family Narrative Meets Genetic Testing

04: When Family Narrative Meets Genetic Testing

People want a family narrative that is cohesive, useful, identity-supporting, and will give them the best chance for social survival. DNA just “wants” to move itself forward and is completely neutral on issues of race, subterfuge, or social connection. Explore how to create a strategic family narrative to incorporate the scientific facts of your DNA ancestry results.

30 min
Privacy versus Connection in DNA Testing

05: Privacy versus Connection in DNA Testing

From the now-famous case of Henrietta Lacks to that of the Hagahai people of Papua New Guinea, scientists and government agencies have a history of bad actions with respect to biological samples. With millions of DNA samples now in existence, learn about the laws and programs now in place to protect privacy. Is it enough?

30 min
The DNA Discussion Project Research

06: The DNA Discussion Project Research

Learn about the DNA Discussion Project, its goals, and current results regarding the ways in which DNA ancestry tests are changing identity. Do unanticipated test results cause individuals to change their formal census designation? Do people share their DNA ancestry results with family and friends? And what are the broader social implications of those decisions?

29 min
How Genograms Reveal Your Ancestry

07: How Genograms Reveal Your Ancestry

A genogram is a graphic tool used to explore family history and relationships over a two- to three-generation period. Discover the powerful information that can be conveyed through a genogram—particularly the quality of relationships between family members—as opposed to the traditional family tree diagram.

26 min
Gaining Insight through Your Genetics

08: Gaining Insight through Your Genetics

Although thousands of babies are born each year with the assistance of various reproductive technologies, the science seems to be ahead of our ability to fully comprehend the consequences. Explore this issue by meeting Maria, who learned as a teenager that she was born with the help of intrauterine insemination. How does that knowledge affect an adolescent’s identity?

29 min
Designer Babies and DNA Ancestry

09: Designer Babies and DNA Ancestry

CRISPR, a relatively new gene-editing technology, has tremendous potential to cure genetic diseases. However, the power to alter a human genome could also be used to create “designer babies.” Explore the significant issues that need to be discussed broadly in the culture to avoid unintended consequences, including a replay of historical US laws promoting eugenics.

29 min
Personalized Medicine and Your Genome

10: Personalized Medicine and Your Genome

Medicine based on an individual’s genome hopes to solve numerous disease issues before long. But given that personal identity is much more than any genome, could the “personal” be left out of “personalized” medicine? Explore the issues of epigenetics that must be considered so that larger social determinants of health are not ignored in favor of genetics alone.

30 min
Levels of Your Identity

11: Levels of Your Identity

What happens when your DNA ancestry says one thing, but you feel something else entirely? Can a white man find his true home in the Black community? Can a Japanese woman find an American identity that finally “fits”? Discover the complexity of identity levels by exploring the notorious case of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who became a self-proclaimed Black activist.

31 min
Making Art with DNA Ancestry

12: Making Art with DNA Ancestry

Explore the relationship between DNA ancestry and identity via the artwork of photographer Brooklyn McTavish. Beginning with an individual’s DNA ancestry readout, the artist explores the individual’s responses, emotions, and remaining questions. He then creates images with layers of meaning that are often difficult to convey with the explicit statements of language.

30 min