(Digital) Humanities: It’s all one in the same in my research

The map interface for searching materials. The Vietnam Project MSU Archive


While writing about my data science course at the School of Information in the spring of 2016, I realized that I needed a long preface to explain why it was that a historian of Vietnam was using computational methods in their research. My long engagement with the world of ‘tech’ has become less of a dabbling and more of a blurry (exciting) amalgamation where all of my work in history, digital humanities, quantitative methods, data science, and information science have converged.

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How I Gamed the Academy: Quantifying my Academic Labor

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My character ‘cindyanguyen’ in Habitica

Quantifying Labor: an Introduction

Graduate school perpetuates a nebulous concept of ‘work.’ In the academy we are always working—from research to teaching, grant writing to meetings, emails to professional networking. But for me, this concept of always working weighs me down. It is easy for me to forget why I’m doing this whole academy thing, and what it is I’m actually doing at the moment.

Thus, for the past two years of graduate school, I have quantified my labor. It started as a personal challenge if I could maintain a ’40-hour work week’ and have some resemblance to work-life balance. But over the years, I found that quantifying my labor was both personally revelatory and an affirmation of my work. Much like the ‘quantified-self movement,’ I wanted to know what I do with my time, so that I could more efficiently use my time. But most importantly, quantifying my labor reminded me why I was pursuing a Ph.D. in Vietnamese history.

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BOOK REVIEW Bowker & Star Sorting Things out: Classification and Its Consequences

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Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things out: Classification and Its Consequences. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999.

“To classify is human”

Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star undertake the challenging and encompassing topic of ‘classification’ in Classification and Its Consequences. The authors argue the that 1) classification is a ubiquitous human activity (“human artifacts”) and 2) the consequences of classificatory architecture influence and ‘torque’ human lives politically, socially, linguistically, and cognitively. The authors provide investigate infrastructure of  classification schemes in the medical and social realm such as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the Nursing Intervention Classification (NIC), and racial classification in South Africa.

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BOOK REVIEW Hue-Tam Ho Tai’s Millenarianism and Peasant Politics in Vietnam (1983)



Hue-Tam Ho Tai. Millenarianism and Peasant Politics in Vietnam. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Hue-Tam Ho Tai examines the history of the millenarian tradition Bửu Sơn Kỳ Hương (Strange Fragrance from the Precious Mountain)—a collection of Sino-Vietnamese folk religion (mystical currents of Zen, White Lotus, popular Taoism) in the spiritually and ethnically diverse Western Nam Bo Khmer-Viet frontier in 1849 (appearance of Buddha Master) to 1975 (Communist takeover of the South).  Ho Tai makes two primary arguments: 1) The foundation of the Hoa Hao sect by Huynh Phu So in 1939 was the modern embodiment and adaptation of the Bửu Sơn Kỳ Hương to profound change in the colonial period. 2) The Hoa Hao was a competing ideology of change to Communist revolution and traces its progression and limitations as a movement. (In the 1940s, the Hoa Hao united the sects of the western Delta into a theocratic state, and offered itself as an institutional, military, alternative society to Vietminh communist power.)

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ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Colonial Studies: Power and Knowledge

Below is an annotated bibliography of part of my reading list with Professor Janaki Bakhle, titled ‘Colonial Studies: Power and Knowledge.” This reading list focuses on agents and institutions of colonial knowledge and is framed by the following commentary:

“Colonial conquest was not just the result of the power of superior arms, military organization, political power, or economic wealth—as important as these things were. Colonialism was made possible, and then sustained and strengthened, as much by cultural technologies of rule as it was by the more obvious and brutal modes of conquest that first established power on foreign shores. The cu1tural effects of colonialism have too often been ignored or displaced into the inevitable logic of modernization and world capitalism; but more than this, it has not been sufficiently recognized that colonialism was itself a cultural project of control. Colonial knowledge both enabled conquest and was produced by it; in certain important ways, knowledge was what colonialism was all about.”

Nicholas Dirks forward to Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge (1996)

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BOOK REVIEW Charles Keith’s Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation (2012)

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Charles Keith, Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation University of California Press, 2012.

Charles Keith sheds light upon the role of the Vietnamese Catholic Church in the rise of Vietnamese nationalism and a ‘modern’ identity. As the first comprehensive, English language study of the twentieth century Catholic Church in Vietnam, Keith rejects the current historiography of Vietnamese Catholics as simply supporters of French colonialism and in opposition to Vietnamese nationalism. Instead, Keith instills a sense of political and cultural agency for Vietnamese Catholics and indigenous religious organizations to critique the French colonial state. Keith demonstrates how a ‘national’ Catholic Church emerged in Vietnam after World War I through print culture and connection with global Catholicism. Keith reveals how the Vietnamese Catholic Church strategically identified with global Catholic movements and Vatican political stances on national self-identity and human dignity. Through this relationship with Rome and missionary political structures, Vietnamese Catholics were able to reposition themselves as a modern political and religious institution.

Keith also demonstrates how Vietnamese Catholics contributed to a new, ‘modern’ political consciousness and nationalism. In other parts of Catholic Vietnam, Keith describes Catholic political consciousness as tied to the rise of a modern national culture. Writers contrasted the often ambiguous and all encompassing adjective ‘modern’ with ‘traditional,’ as a way to make social and cultural critiques. Keith demonstrates how the formation of the national Vietnamese Catholic Church coincided with debates on modernity and political identities, or within a phenomenon Keith terms as ‘religious modernity.’

BOOK REVIEW: David Marr’s Generational Arguments in Vietnamese Anticolonialism (1971) and Vietnamese Tradition on Trial 1920-1945 (1981)

Author Background

David G. Marr was born in 1937 and in his lifetime completed service in the marine corps, intelligence agency, and Vietnam (1962). He completed his MA and Ph.D. in History at UC Berkeley (1968) under the guidance of Chinese historian Joseph Levenson. Marr also contributed to Vietnam Today and the Indochina Resource center, an activist resource center. Marr currently is an emeritus Professor at the College of Asia and the Pacific at Australian National University. He is the author of multiple important monographs and articles for the field of Vietnamese hsitory:

Vietnamese Anticolonialism 1885-1925, University of California Press, 1971

Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945, University of California Press, 1981.

Vietnam. World Bibliographical Series, vol.147, Clio Press, 1992.

Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power, University of California Press, 1995.

Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946) University of California Press, 2013

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BOOK REVIEW Hue-Tam Ho Tai’s Radicalism and the Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution (1992)

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Hue-Tam Ho Tai. Radicalism and the Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Hue-Tam Ho Tai argues that the 1920’s and 1930’s witnessed the formation of a particular strain of reaction to the colonial status quo. Hue-Tam coins the term Vietnamese ‘radicalism’ defined as “an essentially non-ideological current of reaction, both to colonial rule and to native accommodation to that rule, the chief characteristics of which were iconoclasm and the marriage of the personal and the political.” Characterizing radicalism as an ‘individualist’ phase of revolution, Hue-Tam thus connects the national struggle for independence with an individual’s anarchical emancipation from tradition and social institutions. Described as the yearning for new personal and collective forms of expression, radicalism was the “political mood” and also a form of cultural politics of the 1920’s and 1930’s generation of students. Hue-Tam locates the emergence of radicalism among a specific generation of Vietnamese intellectuals—mostly urban, French or French colonial educated, youth who came of age in the political climate of the 1920’s and expressed themselves through student strikes, associations, and newspapers.

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‘A Xu/sou for the Students’: A Discourse Analysis of Vietnamese Student Migration to France in the Late Colonial Period

This was originally published as a book chapter in Nguyen, Cindy A. 2015. “‘A Xu/sou for the Students’: A Discourse Analysis of Vietnamese Student Migration to France in the Late Colonial Period”. In Transnational Migration and Asia: The Question of Return, edited by Michiel Baas, 135–56. Amsterdam University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1963142.11.

Below is an early proof version of my chapter:


“’A Xu/Sou for the Students:’

A Discourse Analysis of Vietnamese Student Migration to France in the Late Colonial Period”

Cindy A. Nguyen


This chapter examines the physical and emotional experience and representation of Vietnamese student migrants between metrópole and home within the first decades of the twentieth century. Amongst the circulation of ideas on civilization, individualism, and nationalism, newspaper debates questioned the meaning and role of ‘the student’ within a rapidly changing, modern and one-day independent Vietnamese nation. However, rather than assume colonial study as simply a producer of radical intelligentsia, this chapter considers how the discourse of ‘the student’ was shaped both by the obligation to return to Vietnam and the students’ rejection of that cultural world. For some individuals, civilizational discourse and the opportunity for education abroad was the emancipation from both family and outmoded social expectations. For others, this sense of individuality inherent within student migration, reified the feeling of apartness brought by physical distance and cultural estrangement. Through studying the rhetoric of sending Vietnamese abroad, this chapter demonstrates the symbolic power and responsibility that an educated youth carried in relation to shifting definitions of the home—both familial and national.

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