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Profile profile for VongS

Sam Vong

Curator of Asian Pacific American History
Ph.D., History, Yale University
M.A., History, California State University, Los Angeles
B.A., Sociology, University of California, Berkeley 
Pasadena City College, Community college transfer


About Me:

        Greetings from Washington, DC! I am Curator of Asian Pacific American (APA) History in the Division of Work and Industry. Prior to working at the Smithsonian, I taught at a liberal arts college in Minnesota and was an assistant professor in the history department at The University of Texas at Austin.

        My curatorial work focuses on strengthening the presence of APA communities at the Smithsonian through exhibitions, programs, digital storytelling, research and writing, and collecting. As a curator, I’m constantly thinking about how APA history as an ongoing intellectual, political, and social project can provide useful concepts and tools to help us to better understand America’s past and present. Although I was formally trained as a historian of twentieth-century U.S. history, the issues and themes I work on span from early America to the present, allowing me to examine a wider arc of historical change. Some of the themes I examine include, among others, global migration, U.S. immigration, gender-based violence, decolonization, emotions, and questions of belonging.   

         A crucial aspect of my job—and perhaps my favorite—is collaborating with communities, scholars, and students to build our existing APA Collection. My philosophy of collecting advocates working closely with members of diverse communities to listen and learn about their histories and to build trusting and shared partnerships that will encourage people to donate and contribute to the museum as a public history institution. I’m especially interested in engaging marginalized, underserved, and underrepresented communities to create spaces in which people can find self-empowerment to share their histories using material culture through the craft of storytelling.


Research Specialties: 
  • Asian Pacific American history
  • U.S. Immigration history
  • Global Migration and Refugee Studies
  • U.S. Gender and Women's History
  • History of Southeast Asia

Manuscript Project

"The Geopolitics of Compassion: An International History of the Indochinese Refugee Crisis and the Infrastructure of Care, 1960-1994" (in progress)

Collecting Projects

  • Histories of sanctuary and asylum in America;
  • Asian Pacific American women and labor;
  • Asian immigrants in California's agricultural industries;
  • Asians in Latin America


  • Girlhood (It's Complicated)
  • Forgotten Workers: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad
Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition: 
  • Humanities Research Award, University of Texas at Austin (2016-2019);
  • William Appleman Williams Junior Faculty Research Grant, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (2017);
  • Research Travel Grant, Argentine Studies Program, Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin (2017);
  • Walter F. Mondale Research Fellowship, Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (2014-2015);
  • American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Completion Fellowship (2011-2012);
  • Ford Foundation Dissertation Completion Fellowship (2011-2012, declined);
  • Research Travel Grant, Council on Southeast Asian Studies, Yale University (2009);
  • Fellowship, Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity, Yale University (2007-2008);
  • Sally Casanova Pre-doctoral Scholar, California State University Los Angeles (2004-2005)
Professional Affiliations: 
Association for Asian American Studies
National Council of Public History
Organization of American Historians
American Historical Association


"'Assets of War': Strategic Displacements, Population Movements, and the Uses of Refugees during the Vietnam War, 1965-1973" Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 39, no. 3 (Spring 2020): 75-100.

Abstract: Long before the emigration of thousands of people out of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos at the end of the Vietnam War, the United States and the government of the Republic of Vietnam were confronted with a "refugee problem" in South Vietnam, where more than three million civilians were displaced between 1965 and 1969. This article examines how officials of the United States and the South Vietnam government sought to address the ever-growing crisis of internally displaced people. It analyzes three ways in which the United States and the GVN used the processes of displacement and displaced civilians to gain political advantage by transforming uprooted villagers into "assets of war," to manage displaced populations by creating a classification system, and to engineer population movements for nation-building projects. These different approaches reveal the importance of displacement as a wartime strategy and the role that displaced villagers served as crucial resources of war.

"'Compassion Gave Us a Special Superpower': Vietnamese Women Leaders, Reeducation Camps, and the Politics of Family Reunification, 1977-1991" Journal of Women's History, vol. 30, no. 3 (Fall 2018): 107-131.

Abstract: This article traces the history of the Families for Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA), a community organized formed and led by Vietnamese women in Virginia. Founded as a self-help group in 1977 to offer support for women whose male relatives were detained in reeducation camps after the Vietnam War, the FVPPA grew into a national organization boasting more than one thousand members. This article tells the story of how Khuc Minh Tho, president of the FVPPA, and her all-female team spearheaded a campaign to free reeducation camp prisoners and reunite their families. The FVPPA propelled the politically sensitive issue of reeducation camp prisoners onto the national stage by mobilizing community members, lobbying public officials and humanitarian organizations, and politicizing family separation. In showing how Vietnamese women crafted social networks and fashioned their own politial identities, this article considers the important role that Vietnamese women have played as community organizers, diplomats, and political leaders.