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Karen Balcom, Ph.D. (Rutgers)

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

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 and the Graduate Program in Gender Studies and Feminist Research. She is an adjunct member of the School of Social Work. 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.

Dr. Balcom’s new research project focuses on the interplay between the domestic and the transnational in the regulation of transnational adoption to the United States in the period 1945-1975. This work is supported by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant. In 2009, Dr. Balcom is 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 also has research interests in the development and application of feminist pedagogy, in the life of Canadian social reformer Charlotte Whitton, and in women’s transnational activist networks. For the History Department, Dr. Balcom supervises graduate students working in U.S. 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 theme 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 (HIS 3W03 and HIS 3WW3), Women and Social Movements in the Twentieth Century United States (HIS 4I03), Introduction to Feminist Theory (WS 2AA3), Women Transforming the World (WS 1AA3).

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.

“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/