Qualifying Examinations Preparation Tips


A compilation of tips for examination prep in history that has helped me these past few months.

 Before reading:  Read book reviews
 Strategize a logical order to approach your texts (themes, authors,   historiographical interventions, how much time you have)
 While reading:  Make chapter by chapter one sentence summaries in your notes
 Pinpoint key historical actors
 Make sure you understand the historic periodization
 After reading:
 Use index cards or zotero notes
 Make 1 paragraph summary of a book/article.
 Situate text within historiography
 Review:  Create a framework of all the themes on your book list to remember and understand how your books relate/differ from one another.
 Make index cards of possible questions on one side, and concrete answers on the other side.
   Share and communicate your notes, ideas, and questions online and with colleagues!


BOOK REVIEW Richard Wolin’s The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution and the Legacy of the 1960s


Generational Identities and Cultural Politics: A Historiography of Vietnamese 1920’s and 1930’s Student Movements

I led a discussion of Richard Wolin’s Wind from the East in Professor Alexander Cook’s history of Chinese Socialism class spring 2015. Below is my discussion plan for the class including an author biography, argument summary, discussion questions, and a list of the events and figures discussed in the book.


Richard Wolin is Professor of History, Comparative Literature, and Political Science at the City University of New York Graduate Center of European Intellectual history. His most famous books include Heidegger’s Children and The Seduction of Unreason. Wolin also writes about the Frankfurt school and Walter Benjamin and is also a public intellectual and contributes to the New Republic, Dissent, and the LA Times. From his interview, Wolin speaks about his intellectual lineage, influence by Frankfurt school, and  study under Habermas. Wolin experienced the 1960s as an adolescent and narrowly avoided service in the Vietnam War.


“French Maoism operated at a dangerous remove from the reality principle. Mao’s China became a projection—a Rohrschach test—for the students’ overheated revolutionary fantasies. With Soviet communism substantially discredited, revolutionary China, along with other third-world experiments in state socialism (North Vietnam, Cuba, and so on), seemed to embody the last best hope for a left-wing alternative to the dislocations of Western modernity: overcrowded cities, urban blight, ghetto uprisings (in the United States, at least), industrially scarred landscapes, and massive pollution.” (Rediscovering Marxism with Althusser)


BOOK REVIEW Vu Trong Phung’s Luc Xi: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi, trans. Shaun Kingsley Malarney


Vũ Trọng Phụng, Lục Xì: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi, trans. Shaun Kingsley Malarney (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2011)

This book review was originally published by the International Institute of Asian Studies New Books Asia review here: http://newbooks.asia/review/cost-progress

“How is it that while we are in this city of ‘a thousand-year civilization’ there is for every thirty-five upstanding people one person working as a prostitute?”[i] Vietnamese reporter Vũ Trọng Phụng poses this controversial question in the first installment of his 1937 study on prostitution and venereal disease in Hanoi titled Lục Xì. Shaun Kingsley Malarney brings this important work to an English language audience through this careful translation and extensively researched introduction. Not only does this work contribute to the growing understanding of Vũ Trọng Phụng and his literary works, but it also offers crucial insight into the limited history on the poor, women, prostitution, medicine, and disease during the colonial period.


A Culture of Sharing: Reading Publicly & Making Transparent the Ivory Tower


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:

  1. Contribute to the body of online knowledge on Vietnam.
  2. 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.


ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Pre/Early Modern Vietnam (Keith Taylor, Liam Kelley, Alexander Woodside, Li Tana, Choi Byung Wook, George Dutton)

Vietnamese Maps from Whitmore's "Cartography in Vietnam"

Below are my summary notes of part 1 of my qualifying exams list with Professor Peter Zinoman on Pre/Early Modern Vietnamese history.

  1. Pre/Early Modern
  2. Colonial
  3. Indochina Wars



Historiographical chronology/ topical order


  1. Taylor, Keith Weller “Surface Orientations in Vietnam: Beyond Histories of Nation and Region.” The Journal of Asian Studies 57, no. 4 (November 1, 1998): 949–78. + (shelf)
    1. Taylor challenges histories of oriented around nation and “Vietnameseness.” Taylor argues that histories are episodic rather than evolutionary, and function as surfaces upon material and cultural exchanges of which they are formed. He notes how South Vietnam, Nam Bộ has been seen as “less Vietnamese” due to contemporary definitions of Vietnameseness based on the North as the beacon of national origin and authenticity. Using the examples of six episodes of military conflict: the conquest of Lê Lợi (early 15th), Lê-Mạc ứa (16th), Trịnh-Nguyễn ứa (17th), Tây Sơn wars (18th), conquests of Nguyễn Ánh Gia Long (turn of 19th), Frenqu conquest (late 19th). Taylor calls scholars to orient histories towards a time and terrain and to be wary of connecting history with a linear assumption of change over time. In other words, Taylor encourages regional, temporally situated (of Trần Northern Coast, of Hội An and Quảng Nam as a fusion zone, of Nam Bo) studies rather than attempts to trace the entirety of the modern construct of the Vietnamese nation throughout history.


Expressions of Borders and Place through the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship

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Below is a old paper I found when I was writing through ideas of place, nation, and pre/early modern Vietnamese history. From the work of Liam Kelley’s Beyond the Bronze Pillars, I question how understandings of place shape concepts of nation and boundary. I wrote this paper in a class with Professors John Whitmore and Victor Lieberman at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

For more on Vietnamese geography, and map-making, see

Expressions of Borders and Place through the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship

Throughout the late colonial period and increasingly afterwards, questions of the modern sovereign nation have permeated political debates and academic studies on Southeast Asia. More recent scholars such as Benedict Anderson and Victor Lieberman examine even further the global nuances and multifaceted processes that encompass the development of a theoretical political identity, characterized as an “imagined community” or “political ethnicity.”[1] In particular, Lieberman’s forthcoming book challenges the problematic circumscription of the relatively modern European concepts of ‘nation’ and instead considers early modern understandings of ‘political ethnicity’ in a study of synchronous political development in Eurasia.

While incredibly important, the debate on the foundational meanings of political communities is beyond the scope of this paper. Rather, this paper attempts to contribute a facet of political identity through a study on the sense of belonging to and perception of ‘place.’ Here I use a theoretical understanding of place as an intimate relationship between individual and geographical space: “For humans, both the effects of space on our behavior and our use of space are mediated by place.” [2] I highlight the experience and construct of place mediated through the movement away from one’s place of familiarity. Specifically this paper explores the travels of Vietnamese envoys to China in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries and the poetry they composed along their journeys. The sources examined in this paper are based primarily on Liam Kelley’s book, Beyond the Bronze Pillars: Envoy Poetry and the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship, where Kelley provides a historical framework and extensive translations of sixteenth to nineteenth century Vietnamese envoy poetry.[3]