Li-Ping Chen Named Covington Fellow

Collections Convergence Initiative

The USC Libraries Collections Convergence Initiative has awarded Li-Ping Chen, a postdoctoral scholar and teaching fellow at USC Dornsife’s East Asian Studies Center, with its next Floyd Covington faculty fellowship. 

As a Covington fellow, Chen will work with the USC East Asian Library’s primary source collections for a new journal article about the pioneering Chinese activist, educational reformer, and Chinese American scholar Theodore Hsi-en Chen (1902-91). 

After obtaining his PhD in education from USC in 1939, Theodore Chen (no relation to Li-Ping) took a leading role in establishing East Asian studies as an academic discipline at USC, and indeed across American academia. He broke new ground as the university’s first professor of Chinese descent and in 1947 was named chair of the Department of Asian Studies, as it was then called. Much later, his personal library became one of the foundational collections of USC’s East Asian Library.

Over the coming semester, Li-Ping Chen will probe the library’s archival holdings for answers to her scholarly inquiries. How, for example, did Theodore Chen approach and re-imagine the concept of “Chineseness”? And how did his approach to diaspora influence his field-making campus work and his social activism in China and the U.S., including in the area of educational reform? 

Chen’s research will focus on two collections: the China Society of Southern California collection and the Theodore Hsi-en Chen papers.

“They are important archival materials,” she said, “for understanding the development of Chinese American community in Southern California and the history of East Asian studies at USC.” 

Chen’s research will inform more than just her own writing project. During the spring 2022 semester, she will share insights from the two collections with USC students enrolled in East Asian Studies 160, an undergraduate course titled China and the World. “I am grateful,” she said, “to have the Covington Fellowship and considerable support from the USC Libraries to study his life and teach his legacy.”

The Covington fellowship emerged out of conversations among Collections Convergence Initiative disciplinary faculty partners and library faculty, including Professors William Deverell and Josh Kun, Southern California Studies Specialist Suzanne Noruschat, and Exile Studies Librarian Michaela Ullmann.

Professor Nayan Shah of USC Dornsife co-chaired the Covington Fellowship Selection Committee with Professor Kun.

"Chen’s research,” Shah commented, “is vital to help us understand the vision and pursuits of a Chinese American intellectual at USC and his activism and educational leadership in China and the U.S. These quests are relevant today since they are being renewed by new students and generations of the Chinese diaspora.” 

Throughout her fellowship, Chen will work closely with Tang Li, Chinese studies librarian for the USC Libraries. Chen first consulted Li about her research earlier this year. 

“When Dr. Li-Ping Chen discussed her writing project on Dr. Theodore Hsi-en Chen with me,” Li said, “I was very excited to learn of her strong interest in researching the relevant archival collections in the East Asia Library. I am delighted that she has been awarded the Covington Fellowship and look forward to working with her on this project over the next few months.”

Named for the long-time head of the Los Angeles Urban League, the Floyd Covington fellowship marks the recent arrival at the USC Libraries of the civil rights leader’s papers. It includes two tracks: one focused on integrating primary sources into classroom instruction, and another on encouraging the use of primary sources in faculty members’ ongoing scholarship. USC Annenberg professor Allissa V. Richardson was named the inaugural Covington fellow this past March.