This paper was presented at the 13th Annual Singapore Graduate Forum on Southeast Asian Studies on July 25, 2018 at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
Presentation title: Reading and Misreading: From Temple of European Knowledge to Public Space of Vietnamese Modernity and Social Life, 1919-1941
Slides: Cindy Nguyen Hanoi Central Library Reading Room ARI NUS July 2018 Final
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.
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.
The sounds of the city — the torrential rains, construction sites, tranquil cafes, continuous traffic— play together as music notes to form a song of the city. Sống, means “to live.” In this film, I weave together vignettes and sounds of life in Hanoi.
Why I made this: Hanoi has changed me. And Hanoi is changing. I want to hold a piece of this time with me. Over the years,, my time in ‘Hanoi’ will become a memory, a lesson, and a concept filtered through my individual particular experiences. After the sights, smells and sounds of Hanoi fade away into sepia toned nostalgia…I hope this film can remind me of the feeling of the people and place of Hanoi.
Hanoi, the city
The Passion HiFi – “Distant”
Giraffage – “Slo”
Pete Rock – “Pete’s Jazz”
Zero Db – “Anything’s Possible”
Making of Hanoi Song / Hà Nội Sống
Film & Poem by Cindy A. Nguyen
What year did that happen?
Before liberation. / Trước khi giải phóng
When did you go to school?
When did you become a farmer?
When did you meet dad?
When did you want to leave?
And when was I born?
After liberation. / Sau khi giải phóng
What is liberation?
Liberation was a time.
It was a demarcation
of what came before
and what came after.
Liberation was a place.
where everyone was invited
and forever remained guests.
Awaiting an alternative future.
Liberation was a friend.
a neighbor, a brother
a believer, a dreamer
familiar, familial, filial.
Liberation was a sound
repeated, whispered echoes
to cleanse and empty
the evils of the past,
the errors of the past
the past, the past, the past.
Ngày xưa, ngày xưa, ngày xưa.
What do you do
at the beginning
of the end
of a story?
Hold fast the feeling
of sandpaper hands
of worn and tired rosaries
of stiff furniture wrapped in plastic.
Inhale the air
of tiger balm
of the damp, dark, disinfected hallway
of concoctions of ginseng, seahorse, and powdery dreams.
Hold your breath to the melody
of spilled pills
of hesitant doors opening and closing
of the rhythmic hum of snores, sniffles, and television whispers.
Replay the image
of the wrinkled forehead
of greys floating down paisley pajamas
of fluorescent flickers against translucent skin.
And just be
because they can no longer.
Rather than get lost in the semantic battle of defining disciplines (What is/are the digital humanities?), this presentation explores how we as humanists can use data to help us think through our humanities questions, evidence, and argument. Drawing from ‘digital’ and ‘data science’ methods of experimental design and operationalizing, I shared my data science project on the library of congress collection of Vietnamese materials.
Video of presentation
This talk was part of the “Texts as Data—Data as Texts” Seminar and Workshop at Yonsei University in Seoul on January 12, 2017.
The map interface for searching materials. The Vietnam Project MSU Archive
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.