The Cobb Research Laboratory houses two important collections, the W. Montague Cobb Collection and the New York African Burial Ground. Taken together, we have representative bioskeletal and soil samples on African Americans from the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. Traditionally, the study of these materials have been limited to the fields of biological anthropology and bioarchaeology; however, scientific breakthroughs in molecular biology, genetics and bioinformatics will allow us to advance these collections and apply next generation science for evidence-based historically contextualized studies. Therefore we plan to utilize computational biology and bioinformatic approaches, in addition to developing highly nuanced databases for the Cobb Research Laboratory. These advancements will promote novel findings and new science standards for future studies of other human skeletal collections.
Marisela B. Gomez, M.S., Ph.D., M.D., M.P.H. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The investigation of the Cobb Collection and New York African Burial Ground Collection for patterns of stress-mediated changes in biomedical markers may offer some insight into the existence of health disparities today. Specifically, genetic analysis of the extent of DNA methylation of key genes which code for biological mediators, increased or decreased by stress, would help in understanding potential trans-generational epigenetic phenomena increasing the risk for diminished health outcomes in Afro-descendant people living in the U.S. today. Analysis for epigenetic changes or consistency of genes affecting the physiological pathway of stress in past and present Afro-descendants would help to understand risk factors for current health disparities.
Genetic and other biological data have become prominent in the exploration of historical topics of varying time depths. Geneticists are writing an increasing number of papers in which they engage in the construction of “historical” narratives using genetics, or use genetic data in “historical”/chronological frameworks derived from other evidence. These works, at least in theory, encompass the integration and/or reconciliation of evidence from various subjects: historical linguistics, archaeology, ethnology, and history. Such studies are invariably challenging and problematic because of the effort needed to fully control new data and interpretations/conceptualizations, but also the older literature of multiple disciplines, and the terminology of those disciplines. They also require some familiarity with the paradigms and methods of conceptualization in other disciplines, and the debates within fields, like history and archaeology about interpretations and evidence. Incomplete integration or understanding may result in shortcomings which hurt the overall effort and call into question the final interpretations. In this paper cases are explored in which broader and more effective use of non-genetic data and interdisciplinary collaboration may lead to more interpretive possibilities, data exploration, and hypotheses, while reducing potential errors. Some attention will be given to conceptualizing how various kinds of evidence should be ranked in exploring biological population histories, and how these may relate to culture and political histories.
W. Montague Cobb’s seminal treatise published in 1942 stresses the import of conducting research on the human biology of the African American. In this work he emphasizes the scientific importance of such studies and calls for the engagement of more African American scholars in this research.
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