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Karen Balcom, Ph.D. (Rutgers)

Email: balcomk@mcmaster.ca
Phone: 905-525-9140 ext. 24152
Office: CNH-608
Website

Karen Balcom holds a Ph.D. in Modern U.S. History and Women’s History from Rutgers University (2002). She teaches in the History Department, as well as in the undergraduate Women’s Studies minor, the Graduate Program in Gender Studies and Feminist Research, and the Integrated Business and Humanities Programme. Her research is on the history of transnational and transracial adoption, explored through feminist research methodologies. She is the author of The Traffic in Babies: Cross Border Adoption and Baby-Selling Between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972 (University of Toronto Press, 2011). This book uses illicit cross-border adoptions as a case study in the ability (or inability) of social workers, bureaucrats and politicians to collaborate across the boundaries separating provincial, state and national welfare systems. There is a particular focus in this work on the transnational networks of female social workers. This book was awarded the 2012 Albert Corey Prize, given by the American Historical Association and the Canadian Historical Association for the best book on Canadian American relations or the history of the two nations together.  The book also won the 2012 Bowling Green University/Institute of Political History Book Prize in International and Comparative History. In 2014, this book was awarded the Donald Sheperd prize for the best book published by a member of the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster in the previous three years.

In her ongoing book project, Dr. Balcom works with US Congressional Acts (Private Laws) passed between 1945 and 1961 and used to admit to the United States children who were adopted abroad by American Citizens, but who were ineligible for immigration to the US.  The evidence gathered in support of each of these laws allows Dr. Balcom to explore complex stories of transnational adoption narrated from the perspective of adoptive parents, receiving communities and immigration officials, but also (partially, in occluded glimpses) from the perspective of families and communities whose children were removed to the United States and even (on occasion) from the perspective of the children themselves. This work has been supported by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant. In 2009 and again in 2013, Dr. Balcom spent 6 months as a Visiting Scholar in the School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne, where collaborated with a Melbourne-based research group on the history of adoption in post WWII Australia.

Dr. Balcom has research and pedagogical interests in community engaged education and feminist activism (Daily News), and also in the use of online modules to provide skills training for new learners in history classrooms.  She is the 2017-2018 Paul R. MacPherson Teaching Fellow (Daily News). She is using that fellowship to work with Dr. Andrew Kloiber on the project “Strategies for Success: Online Tools Supporting New Learners in History Courses.”(Daily News)

For the History Department, Dr. Balcom supervises graduate students working in U. history, women’s history, the history of social movements, and the history of social and health policy. In Gender Studies and Feminist Research, Dr. Balcom’s work is mostly closely linked to the themes area of Work, Politics, Social Movements and Public Policy.

Dr. Balcom’s teaching includes graduate courses on Masculinity and Femininity in the Twentieth Century United States (HIS 752/open to GSFR students) and Doing Research in Feminist and Gender Studies (GSFR 701). Her undergraduate offerings include Pre- and Post- Civil War United States History (HIS 2R03 and HIS 2RR3), Historical Inquiry: Slavery, Racism and the Writing of American History (HIS 2HI3), Canadian and American Women’s History Since 1920 (HIS 3WW3/online), Women and Social Movements in the Twentieth Century United States (HIS 4I03), Women Transforming the World (WS 1AA3), Foundations of Community Engagement (IBH

Dr. Balcom was the Chair of the Canadian Committee on Women’s History/Comité canadien de l’histoire des femmes in 2014-2015 and Acting Chair in 2017.

Selected publications

The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling Between Canada and the United States, 1930-1972. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.

“Hearing (?) Voices from Far Away: Challenges in the History of Transnational Adoption,” Adoption and Culture, forthcoming 2017.

“ ‘A Little Offensive and Defensive Alliance:’ Friendships, Professional Networks and International Child Welfare Policy,” in Nancy Janovicek and Catherine Carstairs (eds.), Writing Feminist History: Productive Pasts and New Directions. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013: 58-76.

The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling Between Canada and the United States, 1930-1972. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.

“The Logic of Exchange: The Child Welfare League of America, The Adoption Resource Exchange Movement and the Indian Adoption Project, 1958-1967,” Adoption and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2008): 1-65.

“‘Phony Mothers and Border-Crossing Adoptions’: The Montreal-to-New-York Black Market in Babies in the 1950s,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring 2007).

“Constructing Families, Creating Mothers: Gender, Family, State and Nation in the History of Child Adoption,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 18, No. 1 (2006) : 219-232.

“Scandal and Social Policy: The Ideal Maternity Home and Evolution of Social Policy in Nova Scotia, 1940-1951,” Acadiensis, XXXI, 2 (Spring 2002) : 3-37. (reprinted in jeffrey Keshen and Raymond Blake (eds.), Social Fabric or Patchwork Quilt: The Development of Social Policy in Canada. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2006: 89-122.)

Dr. Balcom contributes to the U.S. National Archives through a blog about her current research in their holdings. The blog can be found at: http://congressarchives.tumblr.com/

“The Logic of Exchange: The Child Welfare League of America, The Adoption Resource Exchange Movement and the Indian Adoption Project, 1958-1967,” Adoption and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2008) : 1-65.

“‘Phony Mothers and Border-Crossing Adoptions’: The Montreal-to-New-York Black Market in Babies in the 1950s,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring 2007).

“Constructing Families, Creating Mothers: Gender, Family, State and Nation in the History of Child Adoption,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 18, No. 1 (2006) : 219-232.

“Scandal and Social Policy: The Ideal Maternity Home and Evolution of Social Policy in Nova Scotia, 1940-1951,” Acadiensis, XXXI, 2 (Spring 2002) : 3-37. (reprinted in jeffrey Keshen and Raymond Blake (eds.), Social Fabric or Patchwork Quilt: The Development of Social Policy in Canada. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2006: 89-122.)

Dr. Balcom contributes to the U.S. National Archives through a blog about her current research in their holdings. The blog can be found at: http://congressarchives.tumblr.com/