I recently delivered a talk to 150 college students at Middlesex college through the Asian Studies Development Program. I was encouraged to prepare a talk which spoke to diverse students who might not have a background on Asian history. In preparing for the talk, I took a long time reflecting on the simple question, “Why study the history of colonial Indochina.” In the talk I explain three reasons:
This is a teaching module I designed for my course, “Contested Histories of Colonial Indochina” at Brown University, Fall 2019. [See below for full teaching module or Download Teaching Module>] I connected with an ambitious, award winning project “Virtual Angkor” which brings the 13th century Cambodian metropolis of Angkor to life through virtual reality and 3D simulation. Led by the talented team of Tom Chandler, Adam Clulow, Bernard Keo, Mike Yeates, and Martin Polkinghorne (SensiLab, Monash University, UT Austin, Flinders University), Virtual Angkor allows students to experience and pose questions about Angkor’s social life, trade networks, structure of power and kingship, as well as architectural layout.
This seminar explores the history of French colonial Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) from 1858 to 1945. Challenging Euro-centric narratives of colonialism, we will critically analyze the colonial encounter as complex exchanges, geographically diverse, and socially uneven. We will examine the mechanisms and limitations of the colonial state, capitalism, administration and institutions, and science and technology (maps, communications, transportation, medicine). Rather than position colonialism as an external agent of change, this seminar dedicates attention to local agency, and social and cultural transformations. We will focus on the creative production of new ideas, print media, and urban and religious communities especially in 1920s to 1940s Hanoi, Saigon, and Phnom Penh. By reading primary sources, we will consider how historical actors experienced and understood colonialism and social transformation. Key historical and theoretical debates addressed include the production and legacies of colonial knowledge, construction of modernity and civilization, development of civil societies, transformations of religious communities, and articulations of identities around gender, class, revolution, and nation. The final session will consider the legacies of colonialism on language, race, nationalism, and identity. A close analysis of French colonial Indochina will serve as a framework for a cultural and politically situated history of empire in Southeast Asia and beyond.
Please cite all images and parts of the paper to Cindy A. Nguyen
Video of Presentation:
This talk examines the transformation of library reading in colonial Vietnam from a symbol of French modernity to an everyday practice of Vietnamese modernity and social life. Focused on the 1920’s and 1930’s Central Library Reading Room in Hanoi, I demonstrate the ways in which Vietnamese students, urban readers, and administrators challenged and redefined the meaning of the library into a Vietnamese space of public sociability, self-learning, and global knowledge.
**A Note: This summary of key debates between Orthodox, Revisionist, and Vietnam-Centrism understandings of the Vietnam War will without a doubt, be interpreted as contentious. My aim here is not to cast value judgment on the ethics of war, but to push further the responsibility towards understanding HISTORY and its actors.
For your summer reading pleasure and in the context of the ever rising importance of critically thinking through classification, here is my complete qualifying exam list on HISTORY OF CLASSIFICATION AND INFORMATION.
Examiner: Cathryn Carson
Second Field: History of Knowledge Systems
History of Classification and Information
1. STS & Memory Practices: Classification, Documentation, Catalogs, Libraries, Archives
2. History of Information, Information Age, Enlightenment Institutions
3. History of statistics: governance and discipline
4. Data Science: theory, explanation; experts
Today I started writing the beast of the dissertation on Vietnamese libraries. “Builders and Users: Creating the Vietnamese Library 1887-1986”
The Vietnamese library was never quiet.
Readers flooded the reading room of the Central Library to escape the heat in the summers, and lovers huddled in corners during the unforgiving Hanoi winters. Frequent library patrons complained loudly to library staff and the public press about the lack of chairs for readers and unfair borrowing privileges between Vietnamese and Europeans. Everyday incidents between workers and readers, French and Vietnamese, coalesced into the ever so frequent epic library drama: a slap to the face, a lifetime revocation of library privileges, and a mysterious death reported as a suicide.