Below is a historiographical paper that I wrote for Professor Peter Zinoman’s seminar on Southeast Asian Historiography in Fall 2015.
Modernity and the Modern Era in Histories of Vietnam: A Historiography Essay
When does the ‘modern era’ begin in Vietnamese history? How does it compare to other eras in Vietnamese history? What are the characteristics of Vietnamese modernity? The question of ‘the modern’ consumes debates in colonial and post-colonial studies, and is often entrenched within debates regarding the nation state and Western imperialism. While the question of modernity and the modern era has been intensely debated in East Asia and South Asia, critical studies of modernity still remain limited in Southeast Asia and Vietnam. In this essay, I will explore the question of the modern era in Vietnamese history and situate this within Dipesh Charkabarty’s post-colonial critiques of studies on modernity. I demonstrate that Vietnam scholars approach the topic of the modern era and modernity in three different ways: first, the modern era is characterized by political integration, centralization, and bureaucratic systems of rule; second, the modern era is characterized by ‘modern’ forms of bureaucratic governance, technologies, and consumerism often ushered in by Western colonial influences; or third, the modern era is tied to the modern nation-state. To frame this another way, Vietnam scholars have located the beginning of the modern era within institutions of centralization and bureaucracy from the fifteenth century to nineteenth century, in colonial capitalism and Western ideologies of the 1886 to 1945 French colonial period, or in the debates regarding the Vietnamese modern nation-state and nationalism in the twentieth century.