I recently delivered a talk to 150 college students at Middlesex college through the Asian Studies Development Program. I was encouraged to prepare a talk which spoke to diverse students who might not have a background on Asian history. In preparing for the talk, I took a long time reflecting on the simple question, “Why study the history of colonial Indochina.” In the talk I explain three reasons:
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.
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).
Spring of 2016 I enrolled in my first ever graduate level data science course at the School of Information at UC Berkeley. The course ‘Deconstrucing Data Science’ investigated quantitative methods of machine learning and data analysis. Coming from a humanist background, the course challenged me to think in drastically different ways about evidence, data, and argument. In the process of learning new data science methods, we reflected on experimental design and challenged the underlying assumptions of empirical methods. These critical reflections resonated with similar debates around the ‘scientific’ character of history and the social sciences to draw informed conclusions about the past and society.
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.
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.