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Cindy Nguyen

Cindy Nguyen Joins the UCLA Department of Information Studies

Historian of Vietnam and Southeast Asia and digital humanities scholar will provide perspectives on empire and information.

The UCLA Department of Information Studies has appointed Cindy Nguyen as an assistant professor of information studies with a specialization in history of libraries and information and digital humanities, effective this fall. Most recently, Nguyen was a UC Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the UC San Diego Department of History and the Department of Literature. 

Professor Nguyen advances the fields of history and digital humanities through pioneering research on print culture and power, colonial knowledge, diaspora communities, and information infrastructures across times of war and colonial and postcolonial regimes. With this work, she integrates decolonial data critique, visualization, and public communication, while pushing digital public history forward as an important scholarly field for the academy and public.

Nguyen is currently the principal investigator of the project, “Vietnamese Visual Texts: Pluralizing Narratives and Decolonial Data,” which was launched at Brown University in 2019. She worked with a team of undergraduate researchers to content code a rare visual encyclopedia of Vietnamese crafts, cultural practices, and technologies. Nguyen’s project focuses on investigating invisible authors and the encyclopedia’s representations of race, gender, and labor. Currently she works with David Laidlaw, professor of computer science at Brown University; and Brown University student researchers Kailiang Fu and Tyler Gurth, to explore computational data modeling and visualization of multilingual historical data in non-linear spatial formats.

Professor Nguyen is currently finishing her book manuscript “Bibliotactics: Libraries and the Colonial Public in Vietnam,” the first comprehensive history of libraries in colonial/postcolonial Asia. In it, she uncovers how libraries functioned as both instruments of colonial dominance and experimental space of public critique. The project originated from Nguyen’s Ph.D. dissertation which has been awarded the Phyllis Dain Library History Best Dissertation Award from the American Library Association and was successfully funded by the National Academy of Education/Spencer, Social Science Research Council. 

Professor Nguyen is also principal investigator for the “Social Library” project, an open database on 20th Century Vietnamese intellectuals and their publications and a digital companion website to the book project “Bibliotactics.” The first large scale intellectual and literary study of Southeast Asia, the project visualizes the social and cosmopolitan world of Vietnamese writing, reading, and thinking, decentering literary scholarship from the West by showcasing the dynamic ‘Republic of Letters’ literary exchange in Southeast Asia during the colonial and postcolonial period. The “Social Library” will be an interactive digital public history platform, where researchers, educators, and students can co-create the database and garner new interpretations through visualizations.

Nguyen bridges academia and the public through her arts practice and pedagogical commitments. Nguyen is spearheading a hybrid digital public history project tiled “Translating Across Time and Space” that includes research and new media publications on the interwoven relationship of linguistic spatial identities conceptualized by Vietnamese refugees. Her forthcoming publication “Collecting through Absence: Fragmenting Vietnamese Refugee Archives” (Wasafiri, Taylor & Francis, 2023) examines how physical and temporal displacement shape the lexicon of remembrance. The project includes an experimental film “The Undeniable Force of Khó Khăn” which has been screened in film festivals and included in academic curriculum. Professor Nguyen is involved in developing the Vietnamese Refugee Model Curriculum for the Orange County Department of Education, and has given a range of public talks on intergenerational communication, mental health, and feminist praxis.

Nguyen’s digital teaching includes the project, “Virtual Angkor,” a multi-institution immersive virtual reality project that provides a 3-D simulation of the 13th Century Angkor metropolis for teaching history, archaeology, and visual art. The project won the 2018 Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History by the American Historical Association. Nguyen has worked with the research team to bring the VR scenes into a teaching module on visual representation in her courses at Brown University, as well as workshops on virtual world building and global Asias at UCSD and UCI.

Professor Nguyen has presented her research with invited talks for the Southeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies, the American Libraries Association (ALA), the Yale Council on Southeast Asian Studies, the Harvard University Committee on Ethnicity, Rights, and Migration. She has also spoken throughout the UC system and institutions across the globe, including Vietnam National University and Yonsei University.

Nguyen’s recent publications include the book chapter, “Creating the National Library in Saigon: Colonial Legacies, Fragmented Collections, and Reading Publics, 1946-1958,” in “Building a Republican Nation in Postcolonial Vietnam, 1920-1963, Volume 1,” (University of Hawaii Press, 2022); the article, “Reading Rules: The Symbolic and Social Spaces of Reading in the Hanoi Central Library, 1919-1941,” for the Journal of Vietnamese Studies; and her co-authored publication with Anessa Petteruti and David Laidlaw, “Designing the Virtual Rosetta: A Tool for Exploring Historical Drawings in VR,” for the 2021 Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Prior to her fellowship at UC San Diego, Professor Nguyen was a 2019-2021 Postdoctoral Fellow in the history department and the Cogut Institute for the Humanities at Brown University. She is currently a Junior Fellow of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography Rare Book School. Her recent awards include a senior fellowship for research on the Cambodian library from the Center for Khmer Studies, a Research Development Grant for BIPOC Scholars from The Society for the History of Authorship, and the Pattana Kitiarsa Southeast Asia Prize from the Association for Asian Studies.

Professor Nguyen achieved her Ph.D. in history at UC Berkeley; her master’s degree in history of Southeast Asia at Michigan State University. A UCLA alumna with her bachelor’s degree in history and Southeast Asian studies, she minored in global studies and political science.

Visit these links for Professor Nguyen’s website and Mis-reading, a website of her arts and community projects.