Why Study the History of Colonial Indochina? Talk at Middlesex Community College 2020

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:

  1. It is important.
  2. I am constantly learning and unlearning.
  3. It is hard.

The talk was an opportunity for me to speak more honestly about “Why I do what I do” as a historian, scholar, and artist. I also explained my personal background and commitment to diversifying the body of knowledge about Vietnam. It was probably one of the most difficult talks I have done because I tried to make it relatable, practical, pedagogical, and most of all honest. Thank you to all the eager and inquisitive students and to all who made this talk possible!

Here is another video when I spoke to the larger group with a closeup of the slides:

Student Feedback and Thoughts from the Talk

I thought Cindy’s talk was very interesting. Her childhood stories were very moving and interesting to learn about. That was something that really surprised me, the fact that she went through all of that as a child. I thought she would just explain that she became interested in Vietnamese history naturally but the fact that she lived through that really solidified why she’s so interested in the history. I learned how to look at a source with different viewpoints and I thought the steps she gave on how to look at sources was really helpful.

Reflecting on Cindy Nguyen’s talk: One thing that definitely interested me about Professor Ngyuen’s talk was how hard it was to find accurate information about the history of Indochina and Vietnam. I learned that the French had a very heavy influence on the development of Vietnam. Something that surprised me was how much she traveled in order to unravel all of the history of Indochina. I was really inspired by her story of her family fleeing as refugees, then staying in the Philippines for about a year before coming to the USA; then getting such a high education since her parents did not have that great of an education.

I learned how when learning things such as history you must unlearn things you have previously learned because of new information and new understanding of events and places. It surprised me about how certain words have different meanings to Nguyen from the English translation and what the word meant to her because of her family and experiences. I was interested on how when new transportation options and fashion was introduced there were prints in the news, stating to be careful because of the new dangerous machines running and showing fashion ads.

Going into the talk I knew absolutely nothing about Indochina. My guess would have been Indonesia China. I am surprised that she dedicated her work to this topic. Mostly because I’ve never heard of it. I think it is cool that she found something that she loves and is turning it into her job.

Reflect on Cindy nguyen’s talk

  • Something I learned

○Indochina doesn’t have a a direct place

  • Something that was challenging

○Honestly sitting for that long in those chairs

  • Something that surprised

○That an area is named but nobody can say that it is apart of that area

○Some of the things Cindy questioned

  • What was enjoyable

○Learning about something I’ve never thought about learning about

○That Cindy found her life’s work by asking questions

I’m actually very interested in any sort of history, so I was excited to go to this event. I learned that the French introduced a library program to bring books to the vietnamese, even though most of them were hand picked as to not recite a rebellion. I was surprised by the fact that the French destroyed ancient religious sites. I enjoyed the whole thing! I love history!

One of the major things I took away from this is that family is important and listen to their stories. The other thing I was also shocked with is how much time she also spent learning about everything about Indochina. I enjoyed learning about her research and hearing the stories she shared with us. I also like how she explained cultural things in the research and photos. What challenged me was trying to understand Indochina. I think I have a general idea of it but I still would like to learn more.

During Cindy Nguyen’s talk I learned how hard it is for her to find information about the history of indo china because some of it can be so old, because it is all very biased, limited and difficult sources to learn from, and Most answers and info is not found online. I also find it very interesting that she has spent so much of her life in school because she spent 4 years at UCLA,2 Years at Michigan State for her masters and 6 years at uc berkeley for her PhD and she is still determined to learn.

Cindy Nguyen’s talk on indochina really opened my eyes to the potential everyone has to be proficient in their field of study. Her description on how research finds always occur by chance and the hardest part of your research is finding out the significance of your findings really made me realize how interesting it can be learning about history. She also talked a lot about the importance of family and how some of the best history comes from the life experiences they had.

I thoroughly enjoyed the event and I was very interested in what Cindy Nguyen had to say. I was able to learn more about Vietnam’s history and how the war personally affected people living in the surrounding areas. I was really surprised that Cindy and her family experienced the effects of the war first-hand, and she was able to learn a lot about her history because of it. It was really cool how she grew up hearing stories about her family and everything they were forced to go through. It was challenging trying to take in so much information at once and interpret it since I have little to no background on Vietnam or the war. Therefore, it was hard to stay involved at some points because I was unfamiliar with most of the topics she discussed. However, I found her presentation very captivating and I am glad that I was able to see/learn from it.

When  Cindy Nguyen  came to talk to  our class about Contested  Histories of Colonial Indochina  she spoke very passionately and  with great knowledge about what she   was talking about. What I found that surprised me what that she has to hunt for most of the primary sources she used. I also would use that example as something that challenged me as well due to the fact that  hunting for those sources can be such a difficult and challenging thing to do. She kept wanting to know more and more and would always ask questions about her family’s background and was interested from a young age.


2 thoughts on “Why Study the History of Colonial Indochina? Talk at Middlesex Community College 2020”

  1. Cindy,

    Will a transcript of your “Why Study the History of Colonial Indochina?” be available?

    Regards, Richard Magner

    On Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 10:24 PM Cindy A. Nguyen wrote:

    > cindyanguyen posted: “https://youtu.be/WtddoZpRCMU 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 ” >

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