8th, 9th, 15th, 16th October 2011
Cheltenham Literature Festival
Montpellier Gardens and Imperial Square, Cheltenham

Genetic admixture is the result of breeding between two or more previously isolated populations. Admixture is therefore a consequence of migration and introduces new genetic lineages into a population. The more migration there is, the greater the genetic variety.

Admixture was a 5-part public engagement project inspired by the history of human migration and the mechanics of genetic inheritance.

Part 1: Call for books
We called for donations of 64 books that collectively embodied human knowledge and the story of migration: Art and Photography; Atlases and Travel; Biography; Business, Finance and Law; Children’s; Computing; Crime; Education; Fiction; Food and Drink; Health and Wellbeing; History and Transport; Hobbies and Games; Home and Garden; Languages; Mind, Body, Spirit; Music, Stage and Screen; Natural History and Pets; Poetry and Drama; Politics, Philosophy and Religion; Romance; Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror; Scientific, Technical and Medical.

These 64 books represented a set of great-great-great-great-grandparents, which, through a process of admixture will go on to form new generations of books.

Part 2: Cut & Paste
Mimicking the processes by which genetic information is transmitted from one generation to the next, we cut up pairs of books, recombining them to form new books. We did this for 6 generational steps until we ended up with one new book that is the descendant of the original 64 ancestor books.

Part 3: Publish
The new book:

  • explains the project
  • lists all the books from the original ‘library’
  • publishes Chris Tyler-Smith’s article ‘A brief history of humans’
  • illustrates the timeframe of human migration in a map
  • reprints David Eagleman’s short story ‘The Founding Mothers’

Part 4: Communicators
In a parallel process we worked with local school students (aged 15-17) and trained them as science communicators, with the help of Mark Brake. Young people are both the current endpoint of admixture and those who will pass on their DNA to future generations.

Part 5: Exchange
Armed with blank postcard maps of the UK and the World, the science communicators worked in public spaces of the Cheltenham Literature Festival over the busy weekends, asking visitors to show them where they have come from and how far back they can trace their ancestry. In exchange, participants are asked to consider their deep ancestry and are given a copy of our new publication.

The 35 Admixture Communicators:
Abbie Garrett, Aimee Pegrum, Angus Claridge, Anna Sim, Anni Bailey, Annie Fairlie, Aylin Ozkan, Azahra Almaghrabi, Cat Rice-Williams, Charolotte Thomas, Freya McDonnell, Freya Tate, Georgie Conlon, Gilbert Whittaker, Hannah Clift, Holly Zhang, Isaac Heywood, Jack Howell, Jacob McKenzie, Jake Higgins, Jennifer Bainbridge, Kaite Barnes, Kieren Fletcher, Laura Taylor, Lauren Williams, Lewis Overs, Lottie Moore, Louise Bonner, Louise Foster, Louis Taylor, Millie Bruce-Watt, Oliwia Metryka, Oonagh McSwiney, Pamela Basikiti, Tamanna Khan.

The schools involved were: Cirencester Kingshill, Bishop Ullathorne, Burford School, Pates Grammar, Balcarras, All Saints Academy, Pittville School, St Edwards, Sir Thomas Rich’s School, St Peters Catholic High School, Stroud High School.

This work was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festivals with the support of the Wellcome Trust. Joshua Sofaer is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

A brief history of humans © Chris Tyler-Smith, 2011
The Founding Mothers © David Eagleman, 2010

Studio Assistants: Natalie Clarke & Season Butler

Published in Great Britain by Little Museum, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9561365-6-5

LabOratory Project Manager: Julia Jenkins
Cheltenham Festivals Education Manager: Philippa Claridge