Research & Public Scholarship

My research explores child placement, the transfer of children from one authority to another, as a history of mobility and migration. I am fascinated by what we can learn by analyzing children who are placed out, whether for economic or humanitarian rationales, as child migrants operating within transnational social, cultural, and political systems. The question of why certain circumstances encourage the wide-scale separation of specific children from their families of birth fosters important historical inquiry at the intersections of migration, race, gender, and class histories in America and worldwide.

My current book project, Adoption and American Empire: Migration, Race-Making, and the Child, 1845-1988, demonstrates how modern forms of adoption and older practices of child placement tied to labor motives are inextricably linked to the United States’ consolidation as a nation-state and expansion as a global empire. To this end, my analyses of different child placement practices address, in Ann Laura Stoler’s words, “how intimate domains – sex, sentiment, domestic arrangement, and child rearing – figure in the making of racial categories and in the management of imperial rule.”

Many scholars have focused on the post-World War II period to contend that transnationally adopted children became powerful symbols of U.S. Cold War international relations. Other scholars have focused on the contributions of child laborers in early American histories of agriculture and industrialization. My approach, however, emphasizes the continuity and interconnectedness of placed out children’s economic value as laborers, and discursive value as family members. I highlight the mutual constituency of child placement and the U.S. federal government’s national agenda in determining how and why U.S and foreign youth have historically been transferred from their home communities into American families and institutions. Through this lens, I argue that the emergence of modern adoption was not simply a consequence of expanding notions of liberal humanism and sentimentalized childhood, but instead deeply rooted in changing formations of U.S. nation-building agendas and strategies.

Ultimately, my work bridges U.S. domestic and international histories through the lenses of migration and child placement, in order to imbue normalized child and social welfare narratives of U.S. humanitarianism with the social, cultural, and political complexities that have historically informed the movement of children from their families of birth to other networks of care and labor. My chapter contribution, “Archives, Adoption Records, and Owning Historical Memory,” in the edited volume Children and Youth as Subjects, Objects, Agents: Innovative Approaches to Research Across Space and Time (2021) demonstrates how Korean adoptees’ pursuit and right to access their own records are crucial acts in decolonizing the archive and pushing the United States and South Korea toward more ethical adoption practice. My publication, “American Fathers, German Mothers, and ‘Brown Babies’: The Intersection of Race, Empire and Kinship in U.S. Transnational Adoption,” (2021) illuminates how postwar U.S./German adoption decisions provided crucial entry points to both reinforce and challenge transnational discourses of white supremacy, recuperate African American and West German sovereignty, engage empire, and reimagine futures, in both postwar U.S. and West German societies. And my article, South Korea and Adoption’s Ends: Reexamining the Numbers and Historicizing Market Economies,” (2018), reveals how the current decline in Korean overseas adoption is linked to the practice’s entrenchment as a transnational capitalist industry. 

In the current and highly politicized global climate of border separations, immigration bans, and refugee crises, the rules, regulations, and practices surrounding child removals, placements, and adoptions remain among nations’ most intimate and important negotiations. Children, as potential future citizen-subjects, have historically embodied both the hopes and anxieties in U.S. nation-building goals. My research tells this story.

Public Scholarship

How we understand history is a matter of political inquiry. How we understand the past fundamentally shapes how we view the present and imagine the future – the possibilities that we can imagine for ourselves, our communities, and our world. Public-facing scholarship provides a critical space for dialogue, intervention, and social justice beyond the academy.

Embodying this intellectual commitment, my academic blog post, “Overseas Korean Adoption: When capitalism overrides child-welfare ethics,” (2019) reflects on the current and historic practice of transnational Korean adoption within the context of twenty-first century child trafficking scandal. My public-facing history article, “Racialized Borders within the United States: A History of Foster Care, Adoption, and Child Removal in African American Communities,” (2018) offers an introduction to the systematic, racialized policies and histories behind U.S. child welfare systems. My consultation work with the New York Times (2020), as well as the Adoption Museum Project (AMP), in collaboration with AMP’s Arts & Advocacy: Citizenship for All Adoptees Public Program (2017), California Adoption Conference Installation (2018), and the History Initiative, for example, highlights the intersections between past and present child placement practices, law, culture, and public policy.

In addition, my Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) symposiumMigration Across Global Regimes of Childhood(2018) encouraged public engagement, academic and non-academic collaboration, and interdisciplinary dialogue by placing graduate students and renowned multi-disciplinary scholars, acclaimed writers, activists, and community members, in public discourse. This conference elevated marginalized perspectives to analyze child migrants, including adoptees, refugees, and undocumented children, operating within different transnational social, cultural, and political systems of inequality. You can read my Society for the History of Children and Youth (SHCY) think piece, here.

My research and scholarship has been generously supported by: