Skip to content

Thuy Vo Dang Joins UCLA’s Department of Information Studies

By Joanie Harmon

New UCLA IS assistant professor and curator of the UC Irvine Libraries Southeast Asian Archive brings interdisciplinary skills in the humanities to diversify the library and archive workforce.

Thuy Vo Dang will join the faculty of the UCLA Department of Information Studies as assistant professor of information studies, beginning in October. In this new role, she will train future educators, curators, librarians, archivists, and memory-keepers and advance her research on the Vietnamese diaspora and refugee archival praxis. 

Previously, Vo Dang served as curator for the Southeast Asian Archive and research librarian for Asian American Studies at UCI Libraries. Her work advances community-centered archives practice, a means and method of bringing social justice into the creation and stewardship of historical records for minoritized communities. 

Vo Dang’s work shows her commitment to collaboration and community-building, including her co-authorship of “Vietnamese in Orange County” and “A People’s Guide to Orange County,” an alternative history and tour guide of Orange County that documents sites of oppression, resistance, and transformation. The latter book is part of the series, “A People’s Guide,” published by the University of California Press. 

With her research and teaching expertise in archival studies, oral history, the Southeast Asian diaspora, and Asian American communities, Vo Dang brings an interdisciplinary approach to building out digital humanities and archival documentation projects in collaboration with educators and community-based organizations. Recognized by OC Weekly as “The Studs Terkel of Little Saigon” in 2013, she continues to provide consultation and training on oral history techniques to diverse groups in academia and beyond. In 2020, she worked with a team in the UCI Libraries to develop an Oral History Toolkit, a free resource that empowers community members to document their own stories.

Vo Dang has a Ph.D. and M.A. in ethnic studies from UC San Diego and a B.A. in English and Asian American Studies from Scripps College. A longtime advocate for the arts, she serves on the board of directors for Arts Orange County and the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association, both based in Orange County, California. 

What inspired your interest in diversifying libraries and archives?

I'm not formally trained in libraries or information science. My Ph.D. Is in ethnic studies, and as an undergrad, I was an English and Asian American studies major, so I was trained in the humanities. Then, I came into graduate school and retrained myself as a social scientist and oral historian. So, my interdisciplinary background is actually what I bring to the field of information studies. 

To go back even further, I was a a child refugee who came from Vietnam in the early 1980s with my family. I didn't speak any English, [it is] my second language. I had to learn how to advocate for my family and my parents in particular, translating and navigating U.S. institutions for them. It's this early consciousness that I had as a child in a refugee family that inspires my interest in building out historical records that better represent marginalized perspectives. This sense of social justice fuels my work.

How did you get involved in the project to write "A People’s Guide to Orange County"?

"A People’s Guide to Orange County" came out in January of this year. I came to the project with Elaine Lewinnek and Gustavo Arellano, because we really believe that a different story needed to be told about Orange County. 

In the 2016 presidential election, the county finally turned blue after nearly 100 years. It's been known as a very conservative part of Southern California. [This was] a conservative county in a progressive state, and all of these really important debates were happening right here in my backyard around immigration, housing, desegregation, and race relations. We felt like using the format of a People's Guide could really make academic work more accessible – it’s sort of this crossover. If Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” met Lonely Planet, it would produce something like this.

I also have some articles that are in the works, a couple of new publications based on my work with Photovoice, which is a methodology developed in public health, to capture and document experiences of the marginalized perspectives within our communities. I worked with students at UC Irvine, and some faculty here to train our students to capture the experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islanders during COVID.

During this time period, we saw an increase in anti-Asian violence and hate. It was really important for us to capture how our elders were living through this moment, know how our communities are resilient, and how they navigated all of these really difficult issues in the world. Through photography we were able to do this, and there's an article that just came out in a health journal, and then one in AAPI Nexus, which is a UCLA publication. 

Related to "A People's Guide to Orange County," we're exploring different ways to bring it into K-12 curriculum, because with the mandate for ethnic studies in California, every student will be required to take an ethnic studies course for graduation by 2025. 

There is a lot of demand for this sort of content that teaches history through the perspectives of power and power relations. We’ve been working with local educators to develop an educator's guide to Orange County, a free curriculum package. 

We’ve also been working with KCET on a series of stories that could put it out in the mainstream media, and we are in early talks about a video series based on the book. This moment is so exciting, to bring in ideas about archival stewardship and primary source materials into a conversation about how students can learn about the past.

What do you look forward to most as you join the UCLA Department of Information Studies?

This is such a great opportunity to join the two areas of my work, to bring together the practitioner's approach to information studies, particularly archival studies, with my ongoing research interest in communities that have been marginalized within the historical record. 

I should put a plug in for the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. I was a postdoc there in 2009. I also got to teach for the department as a lecturer for a year. UCLA students were just incredible. They also taught me a lot and really pushed my thinking about the course material, so I’m excited to return to the UCLA classroom.

One of the the collaborative projects that I'm working on with the Center is this massive project that they've undertaken called the AAPI Digital Textbook. This project just got state funding, and it'll be beta tested in fall of 2023. The idea is that it's going to give free and open- source content for students from ninth grade through early college. I’m leading the Vietnamese American chapter. There are scholars from all over the country working on this, and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center is taking the lead.

We need more cultural heritage stewards that come from minoritized communities. I identify that way, and I have been mentoring students for a lot of years who identify that way. They have much more pressing areas of work that they want to go into, where they can earn an income to support their families. Many of them are first-generation college students. And so, part of the mission that I see in joining the IS faculty at UCLA is to help diversify the profession, to bring more BIPOC students into the field. 

In libraries, archives and museums, [the workforce is] still predominantly White. To attract BIPOC students, it is so important to understand that we need people in mentorship roles who look like them or represent the concerns and issues that they care about.


For more about Professor Vo Dang, visit her website.

To read ,“Through Our Eyes, Hear Our Stories: A Virtual Photovoice Project to Document and Archive Asian American and Pacific Islander Community Experiences During COVID-19," visit the Sage Publications website.

To read, “Conflict and Care: Vietnamese American Women and the Dynamics of Social Justice Work,” written for Amerasia Journal, visit the Taylor & Francis website.

Photo by Damon Dang