Last spring I was invited to give a virtual talk at Yale’s Southeast Asia Seminar. It was an honor to present a portion of my manuscript Misreading at the Yale seminar, and to be part of the vibrant Q&A, which due to its virtual format spanned institutions and continent. Thank you to Quan Tran for the talk moderation, Yale’s Council on Southeast Asian Studies for the kind invitation, and to all who were able to attend.
This talk examines the role of state-sponsored libraries within the landscape of print culture and reading public in late colonial Vietnam. I consider how library administrators and government officials defined ‘good reading’ as didactic, politically safe, and vulgarizing reading matter. Through the specific project of the Cochinchina Library bibliobus or xe sách [book wagon],* I reveal how colonial print control and book distribution drew inspiration from the Dutch East Indies Balai Pustaka and American libraries and publishing initiatives. This talk contributes two major interventions in the history of libraries and colonialism in Vietnam. Firstly, it situates the library within the landscape of print culture and peripheries of colonial control, and secondly it points to the administrative exchanges between imperial projects and international library sciences. This talk is part of my book manuscript Misreading: Social Life of Libraries and Colonial Control in Vietnam, 1865-1958. I examine the mechanics, discourse, and everyday practice of the library to fulfill its role as an official governmental institution, resource of public education, and cultural space for the practice of collective responsibility, urban civility, and public reading. I embed libraries within the multilayered landscape of print control—the politics of production, dissemination, and preservation of print matter. I follow the dynamic debates on print control among French colonial and post-colonial government administrators, librarians, archivists, translators, publishers, and readers. These diverse actors investigated the content, language, and influence of ‘good reading’ and initiated projects to disseminate reading matter through translation, publishing, and libraries.
Please cite all images and parts of the paper to Cindy A. Nguyen
Video of Presentation:
This talk examines the transformation of library reading in colonial Vietnam from a symbol of French modernity to an everyday practice of Vietnamese modernity and social life. Focused on the 1920’s and 1930’s Central Library Reading Room in Hanoi, I demonstrate the ways in which Vietnamese students, urban readers, and administrators challenged and redefined the meaning of the library into a Vietnamese space of public sociability, self-learning, and global knowledge.
For your summer reading pleasure and in the context of the ever rising importance of critically thinking through classification, here is my complete qualifying exam list on HISTORY OF CLASSIFICATION AND INFORMATION.
Examiner: Cathryn Carson
Second Field: History of Knowledge Systems
History of Classification and Information
1. STS & Memory Practices: Classification, Documentation, Catalogs, Libraries, Archives
2. History of Information, Information Age, Enlightenment Institutions
3. History of statistics: governance and discipline
4. Data Science: theory, explanation; experts
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.
I recently had the opportunty to present my research and research methods at my Fulbright host institution, Vietnam National University – Social Sciences & Humanities University (Đại học Quốc gia Hà Nội – Trường Đại học Khoa học Xã hội và Nhân văn). The audience included professors, lecturers, researchers, and students from the department of history and libraries and information, senior professors on libraries, and a few archives personnel from the Hán-Nom research institute (Viện nghiên cứu Hán nôm).
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.