KU professor of anthropology receives prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to work on 2nd book

LAWRENCE — Jennifer Raff is on a mission to make genetic research on human evolution something everyone can understand.

Jennifer Raff
Jennifer Raff

Raff, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, was recently awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for her work on the history of human populations through sequencing the genomes of contemporary peoples and their ancestors.

The fellowship will allow Raff to work on her second book, a follow-up to her successful debut, “Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas,” which also explained her research in terms relatable to general audiences by combining science and storytelling. That book was listed for two weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list for nonfiction titles.

As she works on her second book, tentatively titled “The Ancients,” Raff said one of her goals is to dispel the notion of biological races.

“I’m not only telling the stories about human evolution and genetics, but I’m also trying to focus more directly on the concept of biological race and what DNA shows in terms of how we are related and whether these biological races are actually a useful way of describing genetic variation. Spoiler alert: They’re not,” Raff said.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation created the fellowships for midcareer individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts and exhibit great promise for their future endeavors. Each year, the foundation receives approximately 3,000 applications and awards approximately 175 fellowships.

Arash Mafi, executive dean of KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, said Raff’s fellowship is a testament to the quality of scholarship being conducted across the College.

“Professor Raff is doing what we encourage all of our researchers to do, and that is to make their complex research findings accessible to general audiences,” Mafi said. “It’s a very effective way to have a better informed, better prepared citizenry.”

Raff said receiving the prestigious award will help take her research to the next level.

“I think it’s going to be career changing for me,” she said. “It is providing me with monetary support to travel to some of these sites in Europe, Asia and Africa, so I can actually study them and write about them firsthand. I’m really excited to see what will develop.”

Raff also plans to take a small camera crew with her to these important sites in evolutionary history, which in turn will improve the quality of education she provides to her students at KU, she said.

“We will be filming the sites and I’ll do a little bit of discussion at each one of these sites, and perhaps some interviews with the archaeologists and paleontologists that are conducting the research, and all of that will be folded back into my courses,” she said.

Raff said she is grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation and to many at KU for making her next book possible by freeing up her time so she can focus on research, writing and visiting the sites over the next two semesters.

“I want to extend my deepest thanks to my amazing colleagues and chair in the Department of Anthropology and the Indigenous Studies Program, the KU administration, the KU Center for Research, the Institute for Policy & Social Research, KU Center for Genomics and the College for all their wonderful support,” she said.  

Wed, 04/24/2024


Ranjit Arab

Media Contacts

Ranjit Arab

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences