Rick W. A. Smith

Rick W. A. Smith

Rick W. A. Smith

Assistant Professor

Anthropology: Genomics; Ancient DNA; Colonialism; Imperialism; Urbanism; Plantation Studies; Queer, Feminist, and Indigenous Science Studies. My work centers on the fringes of the Spanish/Mexican colonial worlds. I primarily work in Belize, New Mexico, and Texas.

I am a biocultural anthropologist working at the intersections of genomics and feminist, queer, and Indigenous Science and Technology Studies (STS). I completed my Ph.D. in 2017 at the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining the faculty at Mason, I completed a three year postdoctoral fellowship with the Neukom Institute for Computational Science and the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. In addition to working within the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies at Mason, I am also affiliated with the Indigenous Science, Technology, and Society Lab in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta and am also a core founding faculty member of the Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) Canada.

My thinking sits at the intersections of genomics and feminist, queer, and Indigenous science studies to trace how shifting conditions of power become molecular. As both a geneticist and a critical science scholar, I use the concept of “molecular” not only to account for the conjoined histories of social, political, ecological, and genetic change over millennia – but also to track the ways in which normative genome science, as a technology of colonialism, has attempted to naturalize the colonial order and its epistemes.

My work centers on three core areas:

  1. Human population histories in relation to ancient urbanism, imperialism, and settler colonialism.
  2. American ecologies that emerge from historical and ongoing impositions of colonial sex, family, and kinship.
  3. Reorienting the creation and governance of genome research away from colonial dispossessions and toward the sovereignty of the nations, peoples, and communities I work with.

Selected Publications

Smith RWA and Non A. 2022. Assessing the Achievements and Uncertain Future of Paleoepigenomics. Epigenomics.

Smith RWA. 2021. Imperial Terroir: Toward A Queer Molecular Ecology of Colonial Masculinities. Current Anthropology.

Tsosie KS, Bader A, Fox K, Bolnick DA, Garrison N, Smith RWA. 2021. Ancient DNA Researchers Write Their Own Rules. Nature 600(37).

Salas LA, Peres LC, Thayer ZM, Smith RWA, Guo Y, Chung W, Si J, Liang L. 2021. A Transdisciplinary Approach to Understand the Epigenetic Basis of Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities. Epigenomics.

Tsosie K, Yracheta J, Kolopenuk J, Smith RWA. 2020. Indigenous Data Sovereignties and Data Sharing in Biological Anthropology. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 174(2):183-186.

Smith RWA, Springs L, Reynolds AW, Bolnick DA. 2020. Making Kin in a Postgenomic World: Indigenous Belonging after the Genome. In: Daniels: In and Beyond the Law. Nathalie Kermoal and Chris Andersen, eds. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.

Tung TA, Smith RWA, Creanza N, Monroe C, Bolnick DA, Kemp BM. 2020. Constrained Agency while Negotiating Spanish Colonialism: A Bioarchaeological, Isotopic, and Ancient DNA Study of the Vinchos Cave Mummies, Ayacucho, Peru. Bioarchaeology International.

Smith RWA and Bolnick DA. 2019. Situating Science: Doing Biological Anthropology as a View from Somewhere. In: Vital Topics Forum – How Academic Diversity is Transforming Scientific Knowledge in Biological Anthropology. American Anthropologist 121(2):465-467.

Smith RWA and Archer SM. 2019. Bisexual Science. In: Vital Topics Forum – How Academic Diversity is Transforming Scientific Knowledge in Biological Anthropology. American Anthropologist 121(2):491-492.

Bolnick DA, Smith RWA, Fuentes A (eds.). 2019. Vital Topics Forum – How Academic Diversity is Transforming Scientific Knowledge in Biological Anthropology. American Anthropologist 121(2):464.

Smith RWA. 2019. Fifty Years in the Fight for Indigenous Sovereignty: From Alcatraz Island to Elizabeth Warren (1969-2019). Anthropology News 60(2):3-5. [invited] [top 5 article of 2019]

Smith RWA, Monroe C, Bolnick DA. 2015. Detection of Cytosine Methylation in Ancient DNA from Five Native American Populations Using Bisulfite Sequencing. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0125344.

Courses Taught

ANTH 135: Introduction to Biological Anthropology.

ANTH 353: Anthropological Genomics.

ANTH 367: DNA, Identity, and Power.

ANTH 619: Disrupting Nature: Queer, Feminist, and Indigenous Science Studies


2020. Postdoctoral Fellowship. Neukom Institute for Computational Science. Dartmouth College.

2017. Ph.D. Anthropology. University of Texas at Austin.

2013. M.A. Anthropology. University of Texas at Austin.

2004. B.S. Biology. Abilene Christian University.

In the Media

Ancient-DNA Researchers Set Ethics Guidelines for Their Work", New York Times, 10/25/2021

A racist scientist built a collection of human skulls. Should we still study them?", Science Magazine, 07/08/2021

The 4 best at-home DNA test kits for genetics, health, and ancestry, according to geneticists and genealogists”, Business Insider, 11/03/2021

The Biden administration will be hit with multiple crises from the get-go”, Business Insider, 11/17/2020

What Did Denisovans Look Like? A New Epigenetics Approach May Give Us Some Clues”, Forbes Science, 09/22/2019

Senator Warren takes the test” National Public Radio, NPR/KUOW Seattle, 10/15/2018

Is Elizabeth Warren’s genetic test conclusive? It’s complicated”, Boston Globe, 10/15/2018