Grant-Funded Initiatives Train Next Generation of Community Archivists
When Jasmine Nguyen (BS ’25) read about an internship opportunity with UCI Libraries in her dorm newsletter, she was intrigued. Although the Transforming Education, Archives, and Community History (TEACH) internship program was outside of her area of study, its mission aligned with her passions.
“I wanted to learn more about how the humanities could make a real, tangible impact on society and surrounding communities,” said Nguyen. “Having the opportunity to put my feet on the ground and be an active participant in the community was something I was excited about.”
In fall 2021, Nguyen, a pharmaceutical sciences major who plans to pursue a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences with a focus on public policy and marginalized communities, joined a cohort of 10 undergraduate TEACH interns. Funded by the UCI Anteater Grant Initiative (AGI), TEACH paired the students with local community organizations to learn about community-centered archives as a counter to traditional library archives.
Since the 1980s, UCI Libraries has been at the forefront of community-centered archival efforts. The Special Collections & Archives department works hand in hand with local communities to document their histories. The AGI TEACH program is one in a series of recent grant-supported initiative programs within UCI Libraries focused on community-based archives.
DOCUMENTING LIVED EXPERIENCES
According to Krystal Tribbett, curator for Orange County Regional History and research librarian for Orange County, the goal of community-based archives is to empower communities that have been misrepresented, absent, or maligned in historical documentation to tell and preserve their own histories.
“In a community-centered approach, archival institutions focus on shared authority, respecting the value and perspective brought to the partnership by the community,” says Tribbett. “We’re responsive to our community’s needs.”
During her internship, Jasmine Nguyen was partnered with VietRISE, a community-based nonprofit seeking to advance social justice and support working-class Vietnamese and immigrants in Orange County. As a Vietnamese American herself from the San Francisco Bay Area, she was drawn to the nonprofit because she wished to learn more about the community in Orange County.
“Through this opportunity, I learned that archiving and documenting the histories of communities means interacting with the communities themselves,” shares Nguyen. “It means understanding their histories and learning the perspectives and thoughts of the people who actually experienced and lived through what we are trying to document.”
FOSTERING FUTURE LEADERS
In support of its continued work in this area, UCI Libraries has been awarded a four-year $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Under the Community-Centered Archives Practice: Transforming Education, Archives, and Community History (C-CAP TEACH) Mellon grant, communities and institutions work together to transform the ways that students learn about the complex and real histories of the United States.
A key component of the Mellon grant is teaching and mentoring UCI students in curatorial and archival skills. Audra Eagle Yun, university archivist and head of UCI Libraries Special Collections and Archives, explains that this hands-on training is important not just for the next generation of libraries, but for future educators, professionals, and workers in all fields.
“Our research illustrates the potential of ethnic studies and community histories to complement one another in the education of young people,” says Eagle Yun. “These people will ultimately become our leaders, decision makers, and advocates on behalf of a more nuanced, empowered history.”
CONNECTING CURRICULUM AND EXPERIENCE
Annie Quynh Nguyen (BA ’24), who is double majoring in English and Asian American Studies, got involved with the UCI Libraries through UCI's Humanities Out There program.
Under the mentorship of Thuy Vo Dang, curator for the Southeast Asian Archive (SEAA) and research librarian for Asian American Studies, Annie Quynh Nguyen and fellow students Louis Heine (BA ’23) and Mary Nguyen (BS ’22) curated the Literally Displaced: Writing the Southeast Asian Diaspora physical and digital exhibit. Literally Displaced, which features American writers of Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese descent, was on display in the UCI Libraries Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive (OC&SEAA) Center in March and April 2022.
Working on the physical exhibit and its companion digital edition, the student curators explored how literature illuminates the conditions of displacement for Southeast Asian Americans. The exhibit delves into themes such as the role of language, identity, and cultural memory among refugee families. Annie Quynh Nguyen said it was fascinating to see the similarities in experiences among different Southeast Asian groups who’ve had to flee from wars and rebuild their lives in the United States.
“The Asian American experience isn’t something that is largely acknowledged or talked about. I hope the digital exhibit gives people a starting point to learn more about the different Southeast Asian ethnic groups in the U.S. and opens their eyes to the different narratives in history,” said Annie Quynh Nguyen.
BUILDING A NATIONAL MODEL
In 2017, UCI Libraries was awarded the three-year Transforming Knowledge, Transforming Libraries (TKTL) research grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. TKTL projects taught students to collect oral histories and process and digitize materials.
As part of TKTL, more than 700 students attended in-class workshops and 30 students participated in an intensive summer cohort experiential learning opportunity.
Now with the support of the Mellon Foundation, UCI Libraries can expand on its earlier research and training under the TKTL and AGI TEACH grants. The C-CAP TEACH grant supports UCI Libraries’ efforts to share its work with other archival institutions and financially support community organizations and students interested in community-based archives.
“With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the UCI Libraries is able to expand and disseminate our methods at a national level,” said Eagle Yun. “We want to share what we’ve learned and help others design and implement sustainable projects.”
In addition to continuing to train UCI students in archival stewardship, the C-CAP TEACH grant team (Audra Eagle Yun, Krystal Tribbett, and Thuy Vo Dang) will create a resource and curriculum toolkit for academic institutions seeking to partner with community-based organizations. UCI Libraries will also lead research and assessment projects to identify actionable strategies that support ethical and responsible representation of marginalized histories.
Ultimately, the strategy will culminate in a national summit, where academic institutions can share what they’ve learned from hands-on local projects.