History of UCLA Institute of American Cultures


In 1969 the Institute of American Cultures (IAC) was established through Ford Foundation funding as a collaborative initiative to foster and advance intellectual development in ethnic studies at UCLA and to build connections among the four ethnic studies research centers: the American Indian Studies Center, the Asian American Studies Center, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies (formerly Center for Afro-American Studies), and the Chicano Studies Research Center.  Since its inception, the IAC has continued to produce innovative scholarship, support graduate study, and promote interdisciplinary research and training in ethnic studies.  The IAC has also served as a forum for intercultural scholarly exchange while promoting diversity in student and faculty outreach and recruitment to UCLA.

Although in its past configuration, the IAC conducted no research itself, for over four decades it has made funds available annually through its programs for visiting/research scholars and postdoctoral fellows as well as its research grant programs for faculty, students, and research staff. These awards have resulted in the publication of hundreds of books, monographs, and articles as well as the completion of numerous dissertations, master’s theses, and MFA film projects, and have contributed significantly to the fund of new knowledge and understandings about America’s underrepresented populations.

Over the course of four decades, the Institute of America Cultures (IAC) has invested nearly $3 million in more than a thousand research grants—with more than half of the awards going to graduate students. “It’s impossible to overestimate the transformative effect that a thousand projects can have on the university’s research agenda,” says Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, who headed the Institute from 1991-2010, in conjunction with her role as Vice Chancellor for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division. “From the start, their influence has been felt across UCLA in a range of departments as varied as their subjects.” The topics of IAC-funded research have ranged from the most general—ethnic identity among Mexican Americans—to the very specific—criminal trials in San Miguel County, New Mexico. They delve into the past—Asians in the canned salmon industry, 1870–1942—and assess today’s developments—post 9-11 detentions. While history, sociology, and anthropology are frequent disciplines, grants have also gone to subjects as diverse as contemporary views of Chumash dance and dental caries among American Indian children. And the work spreads out from Los Angeles to embrace the world: black poetry movements in Los Angeles, slave culture in Jamaica, and race and law in Brazil.  Proposals for the grants are submitted to the four ethnic studies centers and generally involve related research areas. Some bridge ethnicity, beginning with Social Mobility and Family Structure of Ethnic Minorities, funded in the 1972 and 1973 academic years just after the institute began to function, and including most recently college access for underrepresented minorities, the families of underserved college students, and the breast cancer experience from a multi-ethnic perspective.

The research topics have reflected an interaction between the agenda of the various ethnic studies centers and the academic interests of faculty and graduate students in dozens of related departments.  In addition to research grants, the IAC has also provided more than $4 million in support for more than 300 pre- and postdoctoral fellows and visiting scholars, who are required to contribute to the centers’ overall work and, in some cases, to teach seminars on their area of interest. As Mitchell-Kernan also noted, “Today (these scholars) are playing important roles on campuses across the nation.”


Mitchell-Kernan, C. (2010).  40 Years of Ethnic Studies at UCLA:  1969 – 2009.  Special publication of the UCLA Graduate Division.  Los Angeles:  UCLA.

Tucker, M. B. (1979).  The First Decade:  1969 – 1979.  UCLA CAAS Newsletter, 4 (1), (November 1979), 1-4.