The Case of Desiree's Baby
The Genetics and Evolution of Skin Color
Biological Sciences and Geology
Queensborough Community College / City University of New York
This case is based on Kate Chopin’s short story “Desiree’s Baby,” a tragic tale of race and gender in antebellum Louisiana first published in 1893. Students read the story and then answer a series of questions about the genetics and evolution of skin color. The case was developed for a general biology course organized around the general theme of evolution. It could also be used in anthropology and biology courses for non-majors.
- Explain polygenetic inheritance.
- Describe the inheritance of skin color.
- Discuss the “sunscreen” and “vitamin” hypotheses of skin color evolution.
- Write a short essay summarizing the key points in a popular science article.
KeywordsSkin color; skin pigmentation; polygenetic inheritance; allele; genotype; Mendelian genetics; Punnett square; evolution; racism; race; racial; Kate Chopin; Desiree's Baby
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division
Subject HeadingsGenetics / Heredity | Evolutionary Biology | Biology (General) | Anthropology | Sociology |
Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.
Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.
Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.
The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
- The Biology of Skin Color
In this short video, Penn State University anthropologist Dr. Nina Jablonski walks us through the evidence that the different shades of skin color among human populations arose as adaptations to the intensity of ultraviolet radiation in different parts of the world. Running time: 18:58 min. Produced by: HHMI BioInteractive.