Books for the News, History, Sociology

Beyond Brangelina

jacket imageYet another rumor has surfaced about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s adoption plans. Whatever else one might want to say about them, at least the reports are timely: Saturday, November 15, is National Adoption Day (part of National Adoption Month). And unlike some commemorative days and months
(National Hamburger Month?!), National Adoption Day has serious goals and tangible results, including courtroom hearings (PDF) to finalize a projected 3,500 foster children’s adoptions across the US.
All of this organized national support helps to create an environment far removed from that surrounding adoptions a century ago, when children were still transferred between households by a variety of unregulated private arrangements. What happened between then and the adoptions that will be finalized this Saturday? Few people (perhaps no people) know that history better than Ellen Herman, author of the brand new Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in Modern America. The fullest account to date of modern adoption’s history, this book traces the dramatic evolution of Americans’ ideas about what constitutes a family.
As Herman puts it in a description of her wonderful Adoption History Project, history is an indispensable resource for understanding the personal, political, legal, social, scientific, and human dimensions of adoption’s particular form of kinship. In the process of narrating this history, she offers as many insights about twentieth-century social welfare, statecraft, and science as she does about childhood, family, and private life.