READING AND MISREADING – Presentation at ARI NUS, Singapore July 2018

This paper was presented at the 13th Annual Singapore Graduate Forum on Southeast Asian Studies on July 25, 2018 at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Presentation title: Reading and Misreading: From Temple of European Knowledge to Public Space of Vietnamese Modernity and Social Life, 1919-1941

Slides: Cindy Nguyen Hanoi Central Library Reading Room ARI NUS July 2018 Final

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.


Orthodox v. Revisionist v. Vietnam-centrism in Vietnam War Histories

Photo by Eric Kim, Tuyên Quang 2016, Historically named by the Party as the glorious “Center of the National Revolution”

**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. 


History of Classification and Information Reading List

Genealogical distribution of the arts and sciences’ by Chrétien Frederic Guillaume Roth from Encyclopédie (1780) by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert

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.

Cindy Nguyen
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

I. STS and Memory Practices: Classification, Documentation, Catalogs, Libraries, Archives

1. Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things out: Classification and Its Consequences. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999.
2. Lampland, Martha, and Susan Leigh Star, eds. Standards and Their Stories: How Quantifying, Classifying, and Formalizing Practices Shape Everyday Life. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.
3. Krajewski, Markus. Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929. History and Foundations of Information Science. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2011.
4. Gitelman, Lisa. Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents. Sign, Storage, Transmission. Durham ; London: Duke University Press, 2014.
5. Yeo, Richard. “Reading Encyclopedias: Science and the Organization of Knowledge in British Dictionaries of Arts and Sciences, 1730-1850.” Isis 82, no. 1 (1991): 24–49.
6. Olson, Hope A. “The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs.” Signs 26, no. 3 (2001): 639–68.
7. Brown, Richard Harvey, and Beth Davis-Brown. “The Making of Memory: The Politics of Archives, Libraries and Museums in the Construction of National Consciousness.” History of the Human Sciences 11, no. 4 (November 1, 1998): 17–32.
8. Manoff, Marlene. “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines.” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 4, no. 1 (2004): 9–25.
9. Jacob, Elin K. “Classification and Categorization: A Difference That Makes a Difference.” Library Trends 52, no. 3 (Winter 2004): 515–40.

Scientific Archives
10. Bowker, Geoffrey C. Memory Practices in the Sciences. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2005.
11. Daston, Lorraine. “The Sciences of the Archive.” Osiris 27 (2012): 156–87.
12. Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. “The Image of Objectivity.” Representations, no. 40 (October 1992): 81–128.

Scientific Libraries
13. Marco Beretta, Bibliotheca Lavoisieriana: The Catalogue of the Library of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (Florence, 1995), 13– 58.
14. Grafton, Anthony. “Libraries and Lecture Halls.” In The Cambridge History of Science, edited by Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston, 238–50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

15. Grafton, Anthony Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2009.
a. chapters: A sketch map of a lost continent: the republic of letters & Codex in Crisis: the book dematerializes
16. Ludovico, Alessandro. Post-Digital Print – The Mutation Of Publishing Since 1894. Ram Publications, 2013.

Science & Technology Studies
17. Biagioli, Mario. The Science Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1999 (selections)
18. Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993.
19. Latour, Bruno. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Milton Keynes ; Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1987.
20. Golinski, Jan. Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
21. Daston, Lorraine. “The Moral Economy of Science.” Osiris 10 (1995): 2–24.

II. Historical studies of Information, Enlightenment, Europe, ‘Information Ages’

In chronological order
16th-17th Western Europe
22. Blair, Ann M. Too Much to Know : Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press, 2010.
23. Soll, Jacob. The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009.

18th Enlightenment- Post-1789 French Revolution “modern nation state”/19th Western Europe
24. Wellmon, Chad. Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.
25. Headrick, Daniel R. When Information Came of Age : Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution, 1700-1850. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press, USA, 2000.
26. Darnton, Robert. “An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” The American Historical Review 105, no. 1 (February 1, 2000): 1–35.
27. Burke, Peter. A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot. Cambridge, UK : Malden, MA: Polity ; Blackwell, 2000.

20th information ages, 1960’s-1980s, United States
28. Kline, Ronald R. The Cybernetics Moment, Or, Why We Call Our Age the Information Age. New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.
29. Nunberg, Geoffrey. “Farewell to the Information Age.” The Future of the Book 125 (1996).
30. Day, Ronald E. Indexing It All: The Subject in the Age of Documentation, information, and Data. History and Foundations of Information Science. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2014.
31. Frickel, Scott, and Neil Gross. “A General Theory of Scientific/Intellectual Movements.” American Sociological Review 70, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 204–32

III. History of statistics: governance and discipline

In chronological order
17th-19th Enlightenment
32. Gigerenzer, Gerd, ed. The Empire of Chance: How Probability Changed Science and Everyday Life. Ideas in Context. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
33. Daston, Lorraine. Classical Probability in the Enlightenment. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1988.
34. Hacking, Ian. The Taming of Chance. Ideas in Context. Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

19th-20th Science, Public & Social Life, the State
35. Porter, Theodore, M. The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.
36. Porter, Theodore, M. Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.
37. Agar, Jon. The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer. History of Computing. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003
38. Bouk, Daniel B. How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
39. Desrosières, Alain. The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.
40. Scott, James C. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale Agrarian Studies. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 1998.
41. Scott, James C., John Tehranian, and Jeremy Mathias. “The Production of Legal Identities Proper to States: The Case of the Permanent Family Surname.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 44, no. 1 (January 1, 2002): 4–44.

IV. Data Science: practice, algorithms, computers, role of experts

42. Boyd, Danah, and Kate Crawford. “CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR BIG DATA: Provocations for a Cultural, Technological, and Scholarly Phenomenon.” Information, Communication & Society 15, no. 5 (June 2012): 662–79.
43. Dourish, Paul, and Genevieve Bell. Divining a Digital Future : Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2011.
44. Ensmenger, Nathan. The Computer Boys Take over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise. History of Computing. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2010.
45. Fox, Peter, and James Hendler. “The Science of Data Science.” Big Data 2, no. 2 (June 2014): 68–70.
46. Galison, Peter, and David Stump. “Computer Simulations and the Trading Zone.” In The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contexts, and Power, 118–57. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.
47. Halpern, Orit. Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015.
48. Hey, Anthony J. G, Stewart Tansley, and Kristin Michele Tolle. The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery. Redmond, Wash.: Microsoft Research, 2009.
49. Christopher M. Kelty, Two bits: The cultural significance of free software (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).
50. Kitchin, Rob. The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences. SAGE, 2014.
51. Mahoney, Michael S. “The Histories of Computing(s).” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 30, no. 2 (June 2005): 119–35.
52. O’Neil, Cathy, and Rachel Schutt. “Doing Data Science.” In Doing Data Science. O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2013.
53. Tuomi, Ilkka. “Data Is More than Knowledge: Implications of the Reversed Knowledge Hierarchy for Knowledge Management and Organizational Memory.” Journal of Management Information Systems 16, no. 3 (December 1, 1999): 103–17.

Hello, Dissertation.

Libraries and reading in colonial Vietnam

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.

Hanoi Song / Hà Nội Sống Film

The sounds of the city — the torrential rains, construction sites, tranquil cafes, continuous traffic— play together as music notes to form a song of the city. Sống, means “to live.” In this film, I weave together vignettes and sounds of life in Hanoi.

Why I made this: Hanoi has changed me. And Hanoi is changing. I want to hold a piece of this time with me. Over the years,, my time in ‘Hanoi’ will become a memory, a lesson, and a concept filtered through my individual particular experiences. After the sights, smells and sounds of Hanoi fade away into sepia toned nostalgia…I hope this film can remind me of the feeling of the people and place of  Hanoi.

Music by:
Hanoi, the city
The Passion HiFi – “Distant”
Giraffage – “Slo”
Pete Rock – “Pete’s Jazz”
Zero Db – “Anything’s Possible”

Making of Hanoi Song / Hà Nội Sống


Film & Poem by Cindy A. Nguyen

Chapter 1

What year did that happen?
Before liberation. / Trước khi giải phóng
When did you go to school?
Before liberation.

When did you become a farmer?
After liberation.
When did you meet dad?
After liberation.

When did you want to leave?
After liberation.
And when was I born?
After liberation. / Sau khi giải phóng

What is liberation?

Chapter 2

Liberation was a time.
It was a demarcation
of what came before
and what came after.

Liberation was a place.
where everyone was invited
and forever remained guests.
Awaiting an alternative future.

Liberation was a friend.
a neighbor, a brother
a believer, a dreamer
familiar, familial, filial.

Liberation was a sound
repeated, whispered echoes
to cleanse and empty
the evils of the past,
the errors of the past
the past, the past, the past.
Ngày xưa, ngày xưa, ngày xưa.

Hanoi, 2017
cindy photography sapa-16


What do you do
at the beginning
of the end
of a story?

Hold fast the feeling
of sandpaper hands
of worn and tired rosaries
of stiff furniture wrapped in plastic.

Inhale the air
of tiger balm
of the damp, dark, disinfected hallway
of concoctions of ginseng, seahorse, and powdery dreams.

Hold your breath to the melody
of spilled pills
of hesitant doors opening and closing
of the rhythmic hum of snores, sniffles, and television whispers.

Replay the image
of the wrinkled forehead
of greys floating down paisley pajamas
of fluorescent flickers against translucent skin.

And just be
because they can no longer.