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UMass Lowell Awarded Grants for Southeast Asian Digital Archive

University Partners with Local Communities to Preserve Cultural History

English Prof. Sue Kim looks through Higgins & Ross book of photos of Cambodian refugees in Lowell Photo by K. Webster
UMass Lowell English Prof. Sue Kim is leading a project to create a digital archive of Southeast Asians' history in Greater Lowell.

05/24/2017

Media contacts:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – Researchers at UMass Lowell’s Center for Asian American Studies (CAAS) have been awarded a $239,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant and a $28,000 UMass President’s Office Creative Economy Initiatives Fund grant to create a Southeast Asian Digital Archive (SEADA). 

Partnering with local Southeast Asian American communities, CAAS and UMass Lowell Libraries will preserve cultural heritage materials documenting the experiences of Southeast Asians in the Lowell region since the late 1970s. The digital collection will be a resource for teachers, students, scholars and community members. 

“This collection will help preserve the history and stories of the Southeast Asian community, enabling future generations to understand the foundation on which our community thrives,” said Linda Sopheap Sou, one of the SEADA community advisers. 

Most of the NEH grant will support a full-time archivist dedicated to the project for two years. Other project costs include translation and transcription, as well as consultation on complex copyright and permissions issues. The UMass President’s Office grant will help support these efforts to make the archive available to the public.

The project grew out of discussions with Southeast Asian American community and organization leaders, who, as part of the Southeast Asian Digital Archive advisory board, will be heavily involved in deciding what to preserve. 

Partner organizations include the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA), Angkor Dance, Lao Mutual Family Assistance Association, Saydanar Community Development Center, the Bhutanese Community of Lowell and the Southeast Asian Water Festival. The archive will also incorporate the existing Indochinese Refugee Foundation Archives at the university’s Center for Lowell History. It includes documents from the foundation, which helped resettle a massive influx of mostly Cambodian refugees starting in the mid-1980s.

The wars in Southeast Asia – conflicts that are often discussed under the rubric of the “Vietnam War” but that exceed any one nation – profoundly affected both that region as well as the U.S. Less is known, however, about the approximately 1.2 million Southeast Asian refugees who have come to the U.S. since 1975, fleeing war, genocide and political repression. 

In the late 1970s, the city of Lowell – home of the American Industrial Revolution – became a relocation center and secondary migration hub for Southeast Asian refugees. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city’s population of 106,519 residents is more than 20 percent Asian American, and according to the Massachusetts Department of Education, Lowell High School is 32 percent Asian, primarily Southeast Asian. The greater Lowell region is also home to significant numbers of Vietnamese, Laotian and Thai populations, as well as newer Burmese and Bhutanese refugees.  

The primary investigator on the grant is UMass Lowell English Prof. Sue J. Kim, the Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor in the Arts. Kim and Associate Prof. Ivy Ho are co-directors of the university’s Center for Asian American Studies. Other major co-investigators include Assistant Prof. Phitsamay Uy of the College of Education; George Chigas, senior lecturer in Asian Studies; digital librarian Tony Sampas; and Mehmed Ali, the libraries’ assistant director for digital initiatives. Uy and Chigas are also core faculty in the Center for Asian American Studies. UMass Amherst librarian Laura Quilter will also provide training and consultation on copyright issues. 

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. 

“NEH provides support for projects across America that preserve our heritage, promote scholarly discoveries and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all Americans,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams.

Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

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