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Karen A. Balcom

Karen A. Balcom

The Albert B. Corey Prize


Karen A. Balcom, The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling between the United States and Canada, 1930-1973
Over the twentieth century, many American couples contracted with Canadian agencies to adopt Canadian-born infants, a north-to-south flow of children that was so lightly regulated that unscrupulous operators of maternity homes for unwed mothers engaged in a profitable international “traffic in babies,” many of them Native children going to non-Native parents, or children of Catholic and Protestant mothers being adopted across confessional lines by couples in New York City. Adoption abuses were particularly pronounced in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Alberta, often with the complicity of provincial officials, and jurisdictional divisions between provinces and states (responsible for child welfare policies) and federal governments (responsible for immigration) created regulatory gaps that adoption agencies exploited. In her carefully researched study, The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972, Karen A. Balcom analyses how social workers in both countries collaborated across the international border to reform, and at times create, policies addressing “the seemingly private decision to relinquish or adopt a child” which is simultaneously “a highly charged and often deeply contested public act” (11). By piecing together a complex array of records from repositories across North America, The Traffic in Babies reconstructs the challenges faced by reformers as they tried to transjurisdictional policies for the emotional fraught issues of adoption, and in turn exemplifies the importance of well-crafted transnational history.

Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Lisa Mar, Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885-1945, Oxford University Press, 2011Brokering Belonging accomplishes much in its concise and elegantly written pages. Lisa Rose Mar rewards her audience with an admirably even-handed portrait of a group easily dismissed or condemned – the middlemen who facilitated the entry of Chinese immigrants into North America during the so-called “Exclusion Era.” Beyond bringing to life these elusive individuals and the many ways they served Chinese newcomers to the United States and Canada, Brokering Belonging marks an exciting intervention into the study of the transnational Pacific World.

David Massell, Quebec Hydropolitics: The Peribonka Concessions of the Second World War. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011
David Massell’s succinctly written and sharply argued book boldly integrates traditional archival sources from Canada (in both English and French) and the United States with aboriginal oral sources to reveal Quebec’s complex hydroelectric development during the Second World War. This massive project emerged out of a dizzying complexity of local, provincial and national politics, but also took on transborder and international dimensions. Massell’s work forces us to rethink longstanding notions of Quebec hydro historiography, business history, and Canada-US relations.
(awarded at CHA annual Meeting, University of Waterloo)