Hmong Studies Consortium Report

The Henry Luce Foundation provided a grant of $500,000 to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to support the establishment of a Hmong Studies Consortium between UW-Madison and the University of Minnesota. Numerous accomplishments were achieved by the Hmong Studies Consortium between its establishment in 2009 and the end of the grant in 2014.  These accomplishments included:

  • Seed money to fund a tenure-track professorship in Hmong Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Ian Baird was hired to this position, within the Geography Department, in 2010.
  • Support to numerous graduate students and post-doc scholars at UW-Madison and U Minnesota, to support research and teaching about Hmong.
  • Support for Hmong Studies Conferences that were held, in 2011 at UW-Madison and in 2013 at U Minnesota.

Present and Future of the Hmong Studies Consortium

Since June 2014, the UW-UM Hmong Studies Consortium has continued to grow and expand its activities and its network of scholars. A brief discussion of some of these activities follows.

Minnesota. The most exciting news from Minnesota has to do with our close colleague, Professor Mai Na Lee. As a graduate (PhD History) of UW-Madison, we are pleased to report that she has received tenure in the Department of History at Minnesota (beginning Fall 2015). In addition, the University of Wisconsin Press has just published her revised dissertation, a wonderful contribution to Southeast Asian history, as well as to Hmong studies: Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850-1960 (2015). Both these developments will have a positive impact on our Hmong Studies Consortium. First and foremost is that Prof. Lee will now be encouraged to work with graduate students and to develop a more comprehensive program at Minnesota on Southeast Asian and Hmong history. We anticipate that Prof. Lee will quickly become the focal point for committed students at Minnesota to specialize on Southeast Asia and on Hmong history. In addition, Prof. Lee will be freer to explore multidisciplinary work with students and faculty in other fields, both at Minnesota and at the many colleges and universities in the Twin Cities area, as well as at UW-Madison. Moreover, with the support of her colleagues in and out of her department, we are certain that Prof. Lee will not only inspire a new energy in Hmong studies within the consortium, but also nationwide. She has many ideas for future projects and is now empowered to carry them out. The support provided by the Luce Foundation played a major part in highlighting the importance of Prof. Lee’s work to her university. The Twin Cities, without a doubt, possesses the most vibrant community of Hmong Americans in the United States and already serves as a hub for understanding the Hmong experience as well as for promoting the future contributions of the Hmong to American society.

Wisconsin. We have long believed that the most critical factor in any program is the commitment and effectiveness of the people involved. This is certainly the case for the University of Wisconsin’s Hmong studies program, which has prospered under the leadership of Ian Baird. He has been the heart and soul of our activities for the past five years. Ian’s dedication, relentless energy, and high level of academic productivity have made an immense contribution to the success of the consortium and to many other aspects of the Southeast Asia program at Wisconsin. In this context, we are very grateful to the Luce Foundation for providing the seed funding for the professorship that Dr. Baird currently holds. This was a significant investment. Hmong studies will remain a significant component of Wisconsin’s future Southeast Asian initiatives. We anticipate that Dr. Baird’s involvement will also lead to another significant direction: the integration of the study of the Hmong into a wide range of broader initiatives that are critical to understanding the challenges facing the Southeast Asian region today, among these are the continued need to understand the role of the Hmong in the history of Southeast Asia, the study of current environmental changes, the pursuit of a better understanding of the role of “indigenous” peoples, and the study of the region’s changing relationship with China. All of these, as well as others, are on our future agenda and the study of the Hmong will continue to be a part of these endeavors.

Hmong Studies at Wisconsin is stronger than ever before. Under the leadership of Dr. Baird, and with the full cooperation and support of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, we have been able to establish a comprehensive program of teaching, research, and community involvement in Hmong studies that expands and compliments our long-standing investment in the study of Southeast Asia. Among the exciting developments in the past two years is the addition of Dr. Lori Kido Lopez to our Hmong studies group; she is an assistant professor in Communication Arts and has launched major research projects on gender and media targeting Hmong communities in the U.S.  Prof. Lopez was recently selected as a 2015-16 Outstanding Woman of Color at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Chiang Mai University:  Chiang Mai University in Thailand is the most recent institution to become a member of the Hmong Studies Consortium.  Prof. Prasit Leepreecha, of Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Social Sciences, has a long record of teaching and research about Hmong in Southeast Asia.  Under his leadership, Chiang Mai University will host the next Hmong Studies Conference, scheduled for spring 2017.