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.
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:
Contribute to the body of online knowledge on Vietnam.
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.
It’s been nearly a year since I’ve stumbled upon the fascinating text Technique du Peuple Annamite (Mechanics and Crafts of the Vietnamese People) (Published 1908-1910). I had hoped to come to more of a conclusive analysis of this text before posting about this project. However like most intellectual projects, more questions and directions for analyses have opened up rather than converged into a neat finality. (See poster of tentative DH research presented at 2015 Berkeley DH Faire)
Thus, I wanted to at least share my initial observations and inquiry into the text. Below is a brief introduction to the text itself and excerpts (Methods & History of the Book) from my essay “On Examining a Peripheral Text: Technique du Peuple Annamite”, which I hope to finish editing and publish here. Additionally, I created a timeline of the life of the text and author below:
Last summer I started thinking about translating historical texts into ‘data’ and wrote a short blog post about it when I worked on the Cultural Heritage Informatics project. At that point, I pondered about the limitations of my recently minted Master’s thesis, where I analyzed tourism advertisements and travel stories to understand how individuals ‘mapped’ places with cultural, colonial, and personal significances.As a heavily theoretical cultural history project, I enjoyed the textual, literary, and tentativeness of such an endeavor. However, I could not answer many structural questions about the nature of Vietnamese tourism and genre of travel stories more broadly because of the qualitative nature of my project.
I wonder if others have had this experience in their own historical research? I myself am drawn to digital tools and more quantitative ways of thinking as a way of offering a broader perspective to my often very textual-based questions. With a deep yearning for more ‘concrete,’ quantitative data, I hope to create a digital history project within this line of thinking: translating historical text to data.
(This post was originally published on the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool blog here)
Last summer I had the chance to travel to the colonial archives in Aix-en-provence, France (Archives nationales d’outre mer or ANOM) to get a taste of ‘primary document archival research.’ Armed with a digital camera, a macbook, and a French dictionary, I bumbled around the archives, attempting to mirror the sense of confidence and purposefulness that other scholars seemed to have. After a month of 9-5’s at the archives (and evenings of pastis and concerts in Aix), what did I have to show for my dedicated data-collecting? Over 3,000 poorly labeled digital photos, an incomprehensible excel sheet of ‘important!’ records, and the overwhelming sense of gloom that I would never get through the endless number of primary documents needed to do my research.