BOOK REVIEW: Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind

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Dirks, Nicholas B. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Histories Implicated in Colonialism

Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India is a literature review of four centuries of scholarship on caste, a study of colonial knowledge and categorization, and an intervention in understandings of caste politics and nationalism, wrapped into a post-colonial history of modern India. A tremendous feat of anthropological history, Castes of Mind demonstrates how the nationalist movement and post-colonial histories are implicated in British colonial processes of knowledge production. The work is divided into three parts—parts one and two consider the “invention” of caste starting from early orientalist and Indological studies to the archival representation of caste and social difference; part three studies the ethnographic state in action through practices of enumeration, classification, and the census; and part four examines the relationship between the ethnographic state, caste politics, and Indian nationalism.

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BOOK REVIEW: Bernard Cohn’s An Anthropologist Among Historians


Bernard Cohn, An Anthropologist among the Historians and other Essays. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Chapters reviewed:

“History and Anthropology: The State of Play”

“The Pasts of an Indian Village”

“The Census, Social Structure, and Objectification in South Asia”

“Structural Change in Indian Rural Society 1596-1885”

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Visit to the Prelinger Library: Ethnographic Reflections

On Thursday, September 17, 2015 I journeyed to the Prelinger Library for the inaugural ‘Place Talks: Visual Lectures about Location.’ Accompanied by my friends—a geography and maps librarian and a digital humanities technologist—I wanted to support my friend, Charlie Macquarie, for his talk and also to explore the famous Prelinger Library. Charlie is an archivist, librarian at Bancroft Library, artist, and writer from Northern Nevada. He leads up the “The Library of Approximate Location”—a project to “explore landscape, place, and the way we use information to define our relationships to the resources that enable modern life.” The Prelinger Library is located in the transforming South-of-market neighborhood in San Francisco. An independent research library, the Prelinger Library was born out of the collection of a pair of curious collectors, Megan and Rick Prelinger. The library consists of 19th and 20th century historical ephemera, periodicals, and material mostly from the United States. The library is organized in such a way to inspire accidental discoveries and connections and encourages ‘use’ rather than passive consumption. Instead of a topical mode of organization, the books are organized geospatially—starting with material on San Francisco spiraling out to topics on outer space.

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BOOK REVIEW: Edward Miller’s Misalliance Ngo Dinh Diem

In Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam, Edward Miller contributes a Vietnam-centric perspective to understand the making of 1950’s and 1960’s South Vietnam. Miller argues that the ‘politics of nation building’ informed the United States and Diem government’s ‘misalliance’ or diplomatic relationship from its beginning to demise. Using Vietnamese and American government documents, newspapers, and the MSUG archives, Miller examines the similarities and differences in US and Diem approaches to political centralization, economic development, counterinsurgency, and suppression of political threats. In this way, Miller demonstrates the complexity of nation building as both a discourse and practice that in fact encompassed debates on democracy, community, security, and social change. (325) Most importantly in his narrative, Miller centers Vietnamese agency and attempts to restore Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu as rational, calculated politicians.

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BOOK/ARTICLE REVIEWS: First Indochina War & its Aftermath (Christopher Goscha, Tuong Vu, Peter Hansen, and Pierre Asselin)

The historical dictionary of the Indochina War on-line Interdisicplinary Tool
The historical dictionary of the Indochina War on-line Interdisicplinary Tool

Christopher Goscha, “A ‘Total War’ of Decolonization? Social Mobilization and State- Building in Communist Vietnam (1949-54),” War & Society, Vol. 31, No.2, (October 2012).

Christopher Goscha, “’Hell in a Very Small Place’ Cold War and Decolonisation in the Assault on the Vietnamese Body at Dien Bien Phu,” European Journal of East Asian Studies 9.2 (2010).

Christopher Goscha, “Colonial Hanoi and Saigon at War: Social Dynamics of the Viet Minh’s ‘Underground City,” 1945-1954,” War in History, 20(2) 2013.

Tuong Vu, “’To be Patriotic is to Build Socialism’: Communist Ideology in Vietnam’s Civil War,” Dynamics of the Cold War in Asia: Ideology, Identity and Culture edited by Tuong Vu and Wasana Wongsurawat (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Peter Hansen, “Bac Di Cu: Catholic Refugees from the North of Vietnam, and Their Role in the Southern Republic, 1954-1959,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 4 no.3 (Fall, 2009).

Pierre Asselin, “The Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the 1954 Geneva Conference: a revisionist critique,” Cold War History vol. 11, no.2 (May, 2011).

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“Last Days in Vietnam” Directed & Produced by Rory Kennedy (2014)


Two symbolic images encapsulate the ‘Fall of Saigon’: an image of the frantic helicopter evacuation off a Saigon apartment rooftop and that of North Vietnamese tanks rolling through the gates of Independence Palace. “Last Days in Vietnam” (2014), a documentary directed and produced by the daughter of former Senator Robert Kennedy, Rory Kennedy, traces the moments before these two historic events took place on April 30, 1975. Through captivating photos, video footage, maps, and interviews, “Last Days in Vietnam” weaves an emotional and informative narrative of the helicopter evacuation out of the U.S. embassy in Saigon. The film captures the sense of anger, fear, confusion, and disbelief from U.S. and South Vietnamese military, officials, and civilians.

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BOOK REVIEWS: Susan Sontag’ Trip to Hanoi & Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire in the Lake

“The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque.”

– Susan Sontag, On Photography

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BOOK REVIEW: Mark Bradley’S Vietnam at War

bradley vietnam at warBradley, Mark Philip. Vietnam at War. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Vietnam-Centrism as Historiographical Intervention

Beginning in the 1990s post Cold War and Vietnamese doi moi reforms, a sizeable body of scholarship on the Vietnam War has emerged with the goal of reintroducing the ‘Vietnamese’ back into the history of the war. As if part of the long shadow cast by the first ‘Southeast Asianists’ of J.C. Van Leur, D.G.E. Hall, and John Smail, the initiative to center the autonomous history of the region responds to the decades of Vietnam War histories defined by foreign relations and geopolitics. A similar historiographical challenge arises when we think about ‘Vietnam-centrism’: does this imply a shift in the relative importance of certain aspects in the narrative or a complete shift in viewpoint?

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Figuring out the Ropes of Grant Writing

It somehow became about the mid point of Berkeley summer term and I realized that my ambitious summer goals have fallen a bit behind. I’m currently in Aix-en-Provence, France for preliminary dissertation research in the colonial archives. It’s definitely been challenging to balance archival work and fellowship grant writing.

I will dedicate the next few blog posts to share my experience figuring out the ropes of fellowship grant writing and developing my research prospectus.

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Poster at Berkeley DH Faire 2015 on Henri Oger

This past spring our team of awesome dh-ers at Berkeley put together the 2015 Berkeley DH Faire. Here is the quick poster my collaborator Amy Zou (Cognitive Science & Linguistics) put together.


My Berkeley Digital Humanities Working Group (BDHWG) Co-convener and friend, Camille Villa, wrote this great recap of the event by  on the DH@Berkeley blog:

DH Community Gathers for 3rd Berkeley Digital Humanities Faire