University of Pittsburgh
September 17, 2009

Author of "Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States" to Speak at Pitt Sept. 29

Ellen Herman, professor of history at the University of Oregon, to give talk titled "Scientific Rules for Realness: Matching and Its Critics in American Adoption"
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-Historian Ellen Herman, professor and chair of the history department at the University of Oregon and author of "Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States" (University of Chicago Press, 2008), will present a lecture from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 29, in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of History Lounge, Room 3703, Posvar Hall, 230 S. Bouquet St., Oakland.

Herman's talk titled "Scientific Rules for Realness: Matching and Its Critics in American Adoption" is free and open to the public.

According to Herman, a historian of the modern United States with special interests in the human sciences, social engineering, and therapeutic culture, the historical claim of kinship by design was to reduce uncertainty and increase certainty in family formation, promising to inject safety, naturalness, and authenticity into a family form culturally marked as hazardous, artificial, and less real than the "real thing."

In her book "Kinship by Design," Herman considers the history of child adoption during the 20th century as a case study of social engineering, or familial relationships by design. The book covers the early 1900s when adoptions comprised various unregulated private arrangements and details efforts by the U.S. Children's Bureau and the Child Welfare League of America to establish adoption standards in law and in practice. In addition, it explores Americans' changing views on matching children with physically or intellectually similar parents.

Herman suggests that the adoption story has as much to tell us about the history of the welfare state, scientific authority, and therapeutic culture as it does about childhood, family life, and other experiences we classify as "private."

Creator of the Adoption History Project Web Site, Herman also has written "The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts" (University of California Press, 1995), about the impact of psychology on public policy and culture during and after World War II.

Herman's work has been supported by fellowships at Harvard Law School and Radcliffe's Bunting Institute, as well as by a major research grant from the Science and Technology Studies Program of the National Science Foundation. During the 2004-05 academic year, Herman was a visiting scholar in the Harvard University Department of the History of Science.

The event, part of Pitt's Department of History Graduate Program Speaker Series, is sponsored by Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, Department of English, Women's Studies Program, Cultural Studies Program, and the Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies. For more information, contact Marianne Novy at 412-624-6516.