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Dominic Pham (C’23) Receives National Award from the American Comparative Literature Association

Dominic Pham (C’23) received the Presidential Undergraduate Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) for his honors thesis exploring cosmopolitanism in Singaporean and Vietnamese literature. 

“I’m incredibly grateful to be recognized by the ACLA for my work in comparative literature,” said Pham, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in biophysics at Stanford University. “I’m especially appreciative that the ACLA has a history of recognizing undergraduate work in the field in an effort to make scholarship more accessible.”

Pham’s award-winning research project, “The Struggle Continues: Cosmopolitan Encounters and Spatial Disjunctions in Singaporean and Vietnamese Literature,” explores the idea that those living in city centers were multicultural citizens of the world despite their specific national contexts. 

Cosmopolitanism and Class

A woman and a man stand together and smile in a conference room. The woman wears a colorful skirt and a dark top. She has long, curly hair. The man wears a white button down shirt and dark pants. His hair is short and combed with a middle part.

Nicoletta Pireddu and Dominic Pham (C’23) at the 2024 Annual Meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association.

“My thesis tries to unpack how cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia developed alongside the histories of colonialism, political violence and migration in the late 20th century,” said Pham. “Cosmopolitanism has historically applied to elites with the socioeconomic resources that would allow them to become world travelers, but I engage with an alternative view of cosmopolitanism influenced by postcolonial theory, which reads refugees and displaced people as cosmopolitan.”

For Pham, whose family experienced life as Vietnamese refugees in the 20th century, the project was deeply personal. 

“At the heart of the thesis are people; I tried to center those who have been pushed to the margins in mainstream history whether it be migrants in Singapore or Vietnamese refugees,” said Pham. “I felt honored to engage in scholarship and criticism that tried to make sense of their experiences.”

The thesis project was completed under the mentorship of Philip Kafalas, an associate professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Nicoletta Pireddu, director of the Global and Comparative Literature Program and the inaugural director of the Georgetown Humanities Center.  

“We couldn’t be prouder of Dominic, for his exceptional work and for this prestigious recognition,” said Pireddu. “With a distinct voice of his own, Dominic offered not only a groundbreaking study of complex novels across national, linguistic and historical boundaries, but also a compelling testimony to the power of literature in people’s lives.” 

“His exemplary dedication to the humanistic component of his academic formation despite the demands of his other major in science makes him really special. It was wonderful to be at the ACLA Conference in Montréal and celebrate Dominic’s achievements.”

Founded in 1960, the ACLA is the largest group of scholars in the United States whose work “involves several literatures and cultures as well as the premises of cross-cultural literary study itself.” The Presidential Undergraduate Prize is one of just two awards that the organization bestows upon students to highlight budding scholars in the field of comparative literature. 

Pham is a true polymath. As a graduating senior, he received the distinct honor of receiving two commendations at the College of Arts & Sciences 104th annual Tropaia Exercises. A double major in biochemistry and comparative literature, Pham took home both the Miljevic Chemistry Award and the Global and Comparative Literature Award. Additionally, the Faculty of Literatures, Cultures and Language Studies recognized Pham at its annual awards ceremony with a certificate for his achievement in global and comparative literature. 

“This project is a reflection of the personal growth I underwent as an undergraduate at Georgetown,” said Pham. “I went on exchange at the National University of Singapore and studied Singaporean literature with Gwee Li Sui for a semester and was introduced to Asian Diasporic literature in a class here at Georgetown with Christine So.”

His scientific research as an undergraduate, which focused on a signaling protein that controls processes of cell growth development and metabolism, earned Pham a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious national awards for undergraduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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