Transnational Adoption, Cold War Militarism, and Literary Creation

Kelly Rich, Harvard University
Catherine Nguyen
, Emerson College 

This seminar explores the ongoing and controversial discussion around the act of adoption and the figure of the adoptee. We are particularly interested in the phenomenon of transnational adoption, and the way that the adoption of children has come to signify a form of state-sponsored humanitarianism in periods of post-conflict. This practice has its origins in the global Cold War, particularly the wars in Korea and Vietnam, as the growing population of mixed-race children fathered by American servicemen quickly became an issue popularized by the media to be resolved through transnational and transracial adoption. This logic continues to shape discourses around transnational adoption, as well as inform contemporary issues of migration, reconstruction, and international aid. By framing the seminar in the broadly construed period of the Cold War, we approach this issue through the contexts of American militarism, Western humanitarianism, and alternative family formations. Furthermore, while scholarship on adoption has tended to be the purview of the social sciences, this seminar turns to literature and cultural production as rich sites for the study of adoption, especially those created by adoptees themselves. We ask what intriguing lines of inquiry might emerge at the site of literary creation and at the intersection of literary scholarship and interdisciplinary work. To this end, we plan to convene a diverse, interdisciplinary group of scholars and creators in order to think about the centrality of representation to adoption scholarship and cultural production.