2018 Clarke Chambers Fellowship recipient, Youngeun Koo — a Ph.D. candidate in Korean Studies at the University of  Tübingen, Germany — reflects on using the International Social Service American Branch records and other collections related to adoption in the Social Welfare History Archives.

Youngeun Koo is studying transnational adoption of Korean children in the 1960’s -1970’s. Her research focuses on the role of transnational adoption in the Korean child welfare system and looks at the issue in the context of social, political and economic systems in South Korea.

By Youngeun Koo

Youngeun Koo
Youngeun Koo

This summer, thanks to the Clarke Chambers Travel Fellowship, I spent two weeks at the Social Welfare History Archives (SWHA). The visit was part of my six-week fieldwork in the United States. My current doctoral project investigates the development of intercountry adoption from South Korea between 1953 and 1979. I am particularly interested in better understanding why and how intercountry adoption continuously expanded during the 1960s and 1970s when there was no emergency situation anymore — focusing on activities carried out by state and institutional actors working on child welfare in Korea.

For data collection, last year, I spent 10 months in Korea where I visited national and regional archives across the country and interviewed those who used to work in the adoption field during the aforementioned period. Additionally, in February 2018, I carried out archival research in Denmark and Sweden, which are, together with the USA, some of the countries with the highest Korean adoption rates per capita. The trip to the USA was the very last phase of my major data collection, and I was really excited to visit SWHA!

International Social Service Guide-1967
International Social Service Guide-1967

SWHA’s collection on International Social Service-American Branch (ISS-AB) is one of the most extensive records on Korean intercountry adoption outside Korea and this was what drew me to Minneapolis.

But I was also curious to learn more about other collections such as those from Children’s Home Society of Minnesota and Lutheran Social Service, two major agencies that have arranged adoptions from Korea since the late 1960s. Previous studies on Korean intercountry adoption, such as Eleana Kim(2010), Catherine Ceniza Choy (2013) and Arissa Oh (2015), used the ISS-AB collection but they mainly drew materials from the 1950s to comprehend its early development after the Korean War. Hence, I was particularly excited to explore records from the 1960s and 1970s.

How ISS Works - 1950sISS-AB closed its branch office in Seoul in 1966, but this did not mean that ISS-AB discontinued its involvement in Korean adoption. The records at SWHA show that ISS-AB continued to be deeply engaged in the adoption field in Korea and this was particularly notable in the lengthy process through which ISS-AB transferred its work to a Korean adoption agency and its supervising and mediating roles between Korean and American adoption and child welfare agencies.

Manual titled 'When You Adopt A Child'Therefore, not only do these materials delineate ISS-AB’s work on Korean adoption, but they also provide an important lens to understand the major transformation that took place in the Korean adoption field throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Now back in Germany, I am excited to delve deeper into my materials!

Just one practical tip for other researchers who plan to use the ISS-AB collection, I recommend allocating ample time to read through the records, as they are highly rich and extensive (which is amazing but can also be daunting)! I was overwhelmed by the density of the records at the beginning of my visit, but Linnea Anderson, archivist of SWHA, fully understood my concerns and gave me advice on ways in which I could more effectively navigate through the records.

Overall, I was deeply impressed by both the quality of records at SWHA and the passion, professionalism and care that SWHA staff showed during my visit. I look forward to returning to the archives in the near future!

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