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.

Presenting my work and Presenting myself in Vietnamese

Recently I was invited to speak and present my research at the Institute of Social Sciences Information (Viện thông tin khoa học xã hội). The presentation was the first of many firsts, where I shared
  • my dissertation topic, “Creating the Library: Builders and Users of Vietnamese Libraries 1887-1986”
  • my research findings in Hanoi thus far
  • observations on libraries to library staff (rather than an academic history audience)
  • and the most challenging part of all this, was that it was the first time that I presented anything in Vietnamese.

Continue reading “Presenting my work and Presenting myself in Vietnamese”

How I Gamed the Academy: Quantifying my Academic Labor

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 12.09.47 PM
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.

Continue reading “How I Gamed the Academy: Quantifying my Academic Labor”

Qualifying Examinations Presentation Tips


(These are tips from other graduate students and professors, and directed mainly at history oral exams.)

Start with “That’s a good/important question.”
Enumerate your answers. This provides structure to an answer, makes it easier to follow, and also offers a natural cadence to end your response to a question.
Reformulate the question. Do this if you don’t understand the question. This also helps to open your response.
Frame the response as if in a written argumentative response (thesis, supporting argument, conclusion).
Do not just fill up time. Make sure to just answer the question and not provide tangentially related information.
Ask for clarification. If you do not know the answer of the question or do not understand, make sure to ask for refinement of the question.
Use historiography as a way to clarify and situate argument. But do not get lost in the historiographical details. Focus on the question asked.
Strive for concise answers. Concise answers convey confidence and clarity. If you provide a short answer, you can also add “I can also elaborate more on this point if you would like.”
End your response with confidence and with a period. Don’t use ellipses or end a response suddenly when you have run out of things to say.

Qualifying Examinations Preparation Tips


A compilation of tips for examination prep in history that has helped me these past few months.

 Before reading:  Read book reviews
 Strategize a logical order to approach your texts (themes, authors,   historiographical interventions, how much time you have)
 While reading:  Make chapter by chapter one sentence summaries in your notes
 Pinpoint key historical actors
 Make sure you understand the historic periodization
 After reading:
 Use index cards or zotero notes
 Make 1 paragraph summary of a book/article.
 Situate text within historiography
 Review:  Create a framework of all the themes on your book list to remember and understand how your books relate/differ from one another.
 Make index cards of possible questions on one side, and concrete answers on the other side.
   Share and communicate your notes, ideas, and questions online and with colleagues!


A Culture of Sharing: Reading Publicly & Making Transparent the Ivory Tower


Exam Preparation & “Reading” Publicly for an Online Audience

For several months I have been preparing for my  Ph.D. qualifying exams in history at UC Berkeley. It can be an incredibly isolating process, where I read for hours with no clear sense of end in sight. Since I’m not teaching this semester, all these ideas that I’ve encountered in reading has felt quite stagnant and purposeless. These books marinate in my head rather than out there being challenged and questioned in an undergraduate classroom or grad seminar.

Something that has brought meaning and order to all these ideas is publishing summaries, thoughts, and questions here on my blog! The anticipation of an audience and the pressure of being ‘published’ online challenges me to refine my ideas more clearly. I liken this process to “reading publicly”. By sharing my reading lists, summaries, thoughts, and questions on these books, I hope to make a visible archive of my ideas.

Making Transparent the Ivory Tower of Academia

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 the body of online knowledge on Vietnam.
  2. Share my experience as a graduate student and researcher.

My hope is that these thoughts and summaries can be useful to someone else out there who is planning coursework, interested in Vietnam, or curious about history. The English language information on Vietnam out there on the internets is quite limited, or incredibly weighted towards the Vietnam War. Furthermore, I seek to share the process of research as one of exploration, experimentation, and communication.

I want to contribute to a culture of sharing things in progress. Working papers, thoughts, typos, unpolished ideas.


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.

Continue reading “Figuring out the Ropes of Grant Writing”