Creating the Vietnamese Library: Builders and Users of Libraries in Modern Vietnam (1887-1986)

My current dissertation project is a cultural history of libraries in Vietnam from the French colonial period through to the decolonization of libraries. I examine the institution of the libraries through the lens of benevolent imperialism, national legitimacy, and cultural practices of reading. I am interested in how the institution of the library exposes the slippages between state control of information and cultural trends in reading, genre, and literacy. This project is in a nascent stage, and I am interested in thinking through the significance of library collections and holdings (languages, genres, borrowing numbers) without defaulting to historical monocausal explanations.

History of the Book and Colonial Knowledge Production

My second project is a history of the book of academic knowledge at the turn of the twentieth century in Vietnam. I explore ‘marginal’ or ‘intermediary’ texts of research prior to formal research institutions written by amateur scholars, French administrators, Vietnamese collaborators, travelers, and missionaries. My project focused on a fascinating visual encyclopedia of mechanical arts that contained both French and Vietnamese (in Nom, a logographic Chinese writing system of Vietnamese). In this project, I read against the grain to explore the authorial contributions of the anonymous laborers (Vietnamese annotators, wood engravers, and draftsman) involved in the production of the text.

Digital Humanities


A 1936 ‘Bibliobus’ mobile library serving Southern Vietnam. Paul Boudet, Gouvernement général de l’Indochine. Rapport sur la direction des archives et des bibliothèques: 1937-1938. (Hanoi: Imprimerie Le Van Tan, 1938)

I am principal investigator of the Social Library database and project, funded in part by the Social Science Research Council IDRF and Institute for East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. The Social Library project will be a database and analysis of the books available to and demanded by users of the libraries–especially during the 1920’s rise of print capitalism and the 1960’s state building in Communist North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam. The Social Library will reveal important bottom-up perspectives on readers, their literary tastes, and social practices of reading. However, no one has systematically analyzed library collections and readership. By recreating library holdings and requests by time, location, language, and topic, I can inquire into the circulation of ideas such as nationalism, Communism, and modernity in Southeast and East Asia. The Social Library project emerged from my work dissertation research in the colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence, France and in the graduate class “Deconstructing Data Science” with Professor David Bamman at the School of Information.

Since 2014, I have been co-principal investigator on the DH at Berkeley Mellon funded project  Vietnamese Intellectual Networks Database (VIND)  along with collaborator Matthew Berry. VIND provides detailed historical data regarding key Vietnamese intellectuals, their geographic movement, and their intellectual networks. In the future, VIND will function as a collaborative resource for researchers, educators, and those interested in Vietnamese history.

In 2014-2015 I was the Digital Humanities Assistant and co-convener of the Digital Humanities Working Group. I contributed to the development of the DH at Berkeley program, working group events in the Berkeley community, and was the coordinator of Berkeley DH Faire (April 7-8, 2015).

In 2012-2013 I was involved in digital humanities projects such as the creation of the MSU Vietnam Group Archive led by the digital humanities center MATRIX  and University Archives at my Master’s degree institution Michigan State University. While at MSU, I participated the CHI fieldschool on data visualization and digital humanities and helped to build Detroit Digital.

Mission: Education, Open Source, and Sharing

Often the ivory tower of academia is portrayed as self-serving and removed from the larger community. Pushing against the image of the isolated ivory tower of intellectualism, I aspire to make the research, reading, and writing process more transparent through my own work. My mission for my website consists of two parts:

  1. Contribute to diversify the body of online knowledge about Vietnam.
  2. Share my experience as a graduate student and researcher as a process of exploration, experimentation, and communication.

I want to contribute to a culture of sharing things in progress. Working papers, thoughts, typos, unpolished ideas. Join me on this online community of open knowledge, discussion, and sharing.


Many of my projects came to fruition due to the hard work and contribution of the following collaborators: Matthew Berry, Harrison Dekker, Anh-Đào Nguyễn Huỳnh, Gordon Lau, Danny Nguyễn, Jordan Shedlock, Đức Trần, Camille Villa, and Amy Zou.

All of my project files are available on GitHub–access, share, and contribute to improving my projects and datasets.

All of my slides for presentations, research, and teaching are available online at www.slides.com/cindyanguyen
Everything on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License
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